Never Split the Difference: A Summary

Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator, wrote the fantastic book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It. Here is my summary of the key points from the book.

Never Split the Difference 

Bargain Hard

  • Three types of negotiating personalities: 
  • Analyst: methodical and diligent, not in a rush, systematic in their process to minimize mistakes 

Time = preparation 

-will work on their own 

-distant and cold speaking versus soothing; view the negotiation and their relationship with the other person separate things 

-silence is time to think

-hate surprises and expect reciprocity; skeptical by nature

à when dealing with one: don’t ask too many questions straight away, be prepared and used clear data, allow them time to answer and don’t apologize 

à if you are one: smile when you speak, remember your counterpart is your greatest source of information 

  • Accommodators: greatly value the time spent building the relationship

Time = relationship

-most likely to build great rapport without actually accomplishing anything

-as long as info is being exchanged, they feel like their time is being well spent 

-silence is anger

-sociable, peace-seeking, optimistic, poor time management 

à when dealing with one: be sociable and friendly, listen to them, use calibrated questions to translate their talk into action and discover their true objections

à if you are one: do not sacrifice your objections just to be likable, be aware of excessive and unproductive conversation 

  • Assertive: time is money so don’t waste time

Time = money 

-the accomplishment matters more than the path to it 

-loud, direct, want to win no matter the cost 

-silence is a chance for them to speak more

à when dealing with one: convince them you understand them, then and only then will they listen to your point of view; use mirrors or calibrated questions to get them to say “that’s right”

à if you are one: be aware of your tone, soften your voice, use labels and calibrated questions with your counterpart to seem more approachable 

Do not assume everyone is the same type as you. 

Let the other guy name the price first, then do not directly say no but ask other questions (“How am I supposed to do that? What else can you offer me along with that?”). If they try to get you to speak first, allude to a high number that someone else might charge. Let your counterpart anchor first so you can get a feel for him. 

  • How to Assert Smartly

Remember, the counterpart is never the enemy. Use tough love. Do not throw punches. 

  1. Strategic umbrage: well-timed offense taking à after an outrageous offer, show some controlled anger at the proposal and say “I don’t see how that would ever work” 
  2. “Why” Questions: used to coax them into working with you à “Why would you ever change your current supplier?” “Why do you want to work with me?” gets them on your side 
  3. “I” Messages”: a cool and calm “I” diverts attention momentarily to you. “I’m sorry, I can’t accept that” 
  4. Be Ready to Walk: no deal is better than a bad deal 
  5. Ackerman Bargaining 
  6. Set your target price (or goal) 
  7. Set your first offer at 65% of your target price
  8. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100%) 
  9. When calculating the final amount, use precise, nonround numbers (gives it credibility and weight) 
  10. On your final number, throw in a nonmonetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit

à prepare, take a punch, don’t get angry, set boundaries 

The Black Swan

-the black swan is the unknown unknown

3 Types of Leverage: 

  1. Positive: person with leverage has something to give or take away from the other person
  2. Negative: a threat 
  3. Normative: using rules, morals, their religion 


à find similarity 

Chapter One: Mirror

Use nonverbal language to signal empathy 

3 Voice Tones of Negotiation: 

  1. Late-night FM DJ: downward inflections, calm and slow 
  2. Positive/Playful: default tone, relax and smile while talking 
  3. Direct/Assertive: rarely use

Go into negotiations looking for and expecting surprises. Fully quiet your inner voice and listen. Repeat the last 1-3 words spoken.  

Chapter TwoEmpathy

Labeling- validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it; giving the emotion a name and showing that you identify with how that person feels about it 

Tactical Empathy- understanding the feelings and mindset of someone else, and also hearing what is behind those feelings to increase your influence 

  1. Detect the underlying emotion 
  2. Label the emotion you want to highlight (“it seems like…”). Label fears. 
  3. Silence: acknowledge the negative and diffuse it without judgement, replace it with positive solution-based thoughts 

Accusation Audit: list every terrible thing your counterpart could say about you upfront 

-encourage positive perceptions and dynamics, pause, acknowledge the other person’s situation 

Chapter Three: NO

“No” is the start of negotiation, not the end. It slows down the pace and protects from ineffective decisions being made. Giving the adversary permission to say no brings down barriers, and makes them more likely to actually listen to you. “No” is not rejection. Ask “what about this doesn’t work for you? What would you need to make it work? It seems like there’s something here that bothers you”. 

3 Kinds of “Yes”: 

  1. Counterfeit: plans on saying no, but yes is easier in the moment. Wants to hear more info to gain an edge. 
  2. Confirmation: reflexive response with no promise of action 
  3. Commitment: real deal 

-make the adversary believe they are taking actions themselves and coming to conclusions on their own. Make them feel responsible. It’s not about you. 

-make them feel safe and secure, and in control. For example, say “is now a bad time to talk?” instead of “do you have a few minutes to talk?” 

-if they won’t say no, drop it

-email: “Have you given up on this project?” 

Chapter Four: “That’s Right”

When the adversary agrees, barriers dissolve. 

Active Listening: 

  1. Effective pauses
  2. Minimal encouragers: “yes”, “OK”, “uh-huh”
  3. Mirroring
  4. Labeling feelings with a name
  5.  Paraphrase what they say
  6. summarize (paraphrase with labeling) 

“That’s right” is better than them saying “you’re right”. “You’re right” means they still don’t agree with you. 

We are all irrational and emotional. Emotion drives decision making. We all like to feel like we are being treated fair. We will turn down a positive, rational offer if it doesn’t feel fair. 

If you’re given something “fair” à “Fair? It seems like you’re ready to provide evidence that supports that”. Start with “I want you to feel like you’re being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair and we will address it”. 

-ask them to explain how you’re mistreating them 

-people will take more risk to avoid a loss than realize a gain à make sure they see there’s something to lose by inaction 

Bend Their Reality

Don’t compromise.

  1. Anchor their emotions: accusation audit it, then prepare them for a loss (“before I go elsewhere”) to inflame loss aversion
  2. Let the other guy go first unless dealing with a rookie
  3. Establish a price range, using odd numbers and not ending in zero 
  4. Use nonmonetary terms
  5. Surprise gift 

How to Negotiate a Better Salary: 

  1. Be pleasantly persistent on nonsalary items (vacation days) 
  2. Define success in your position, plus metrics for the next raise 

Spark their interest in your success “what does it take to be successful here?” 

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