Never Split the Difference: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of Never Split the Difference containing key details about the book.

What is Never Split the Difference About?

"Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It" is a book by Chris Voss that provides practical advice on how to negotiate effectively in a variety of situations, including business, personal relationships, and high-stakes negotiations.

Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, shares the strategies and techniques he developed over the course of his career for negotiating successfully in high-pressure situations. He emphasizes the importance of building rapport and trust, and of using empathy and active listening to understand the other person's perspective and needs.

Never Split the Difference reveals the skills used in high-stakes negotiations that helped the author and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. The book contains nine effective principles—counterintuitive tactics and strategies—you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.

Some key takeaways from the book include the importance of framing negotiations as a problem-solving exercise rather than a zero-sum game, and of finding creative ways to meet the needs of both parties. Voss also advises being flexible and open to change, and being willing to walk away from a negotiation if it is not in your best interests.

Who is the Author of Never Split the Difference?

Chris Voss is a bestselling author and a 24-year veteran of the FBI. He is one of the preeminent practitioners and professors of negotiating skills in the world. He is the founder and principal of The Black Swan Group, a consulting firm that provides training and advises Fortune 500 companies through complex negotiations.

Tahl Raz is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, he has edited and published in everything from Inc. Magazine and GQ to Harvard Business Review and the Jerusalem Post. He is a storyteller of big ideas in business, technology and the social sciences that are transforming the way we work and live.

How long is Never Split the Difference?

  • Print length: 274 pages
  • Audiobook: 8 hrs and 7 mins

What genre is Never Split the Difference?

Business, Nonfiction, Psychology

What are the main summary points of Never Split the Difference?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • One of the most important goals in a negotiation is to create a "mutual win" where both parties feel that they have achieved their desired outcomes.
  • It is key to listen actively and empathize with the other party in order to understand their perspective and needs.
  • Using open-ended questions and reflecting back on the other party's words can help to create a sense of rapport and build trust.
  • It is important to be flexible and willing to compromise in order to find a mutually beneficial solution.
  • It is often helpful to make the first offer, as it sets the initial anchor point and can give you more leverage in the negotiation.
  • It is important to be prepared and have a clear understanding of your own goals and boundaries before entering a negotiation.
  • It is important to remain calm and avoid getting emotionally invested in the outcome of the negotiation.
  • Being aware of and managing your own emotions and body language can be key to achieving a successful negotiation.
  • Decision-making is first and foremost emotionally driven. As human beings, we are all inherently emotional creatures. Therefore, in order to elevate your negotiation skills you must tune into the emotional needs (and fears) of your rival.
  • Rational Win-Win negotiating is not enough. Most people struggle to even identify what is a true “Win” for them, let alone achieve one.
  • Most people have one key basic need: to feel safe and in control. In the context of negotiation, people are afraid of a loss more than they value an equal gain. Knowing this, you can frame your preferred solution as one that promotes more safety and control.
  • Establishing rapport and trust is a necessary condition for good negotiation. As human beings, we want to connect with people who understand us, who we believe are similar to us, and who allow us to feel less alone. Therefore, a key to negotiation is to get your counterpart to feel comfortable with you and see you more as a partner than a rival.
  • Being emotionally empathetic allows you to create rapport and reveal information otherwise unknown.
  • Understanding our cognitive biases can lead to better decision-making. This is fundamental to good negotiation and getting what you want.
  • Turning human emotions to your advantage by using active listening, mirroring, summarizing, reframing, and labeling (vocalizing someone else’s emotions and words) is vital during negotiation. People are drawn to similarities and those who understand them.
  • Asking good questions and paying attention to subtle verbal and nonverbal cues will allow you to reveal “Unknown Unknowns” or “Black Swan” bits of information. This can also help you spot dishonest or unscrupulous counterparts.
  • Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
  • When you are verbally assaulted, do not counterattack. Instead, ask calibrated questions.
  • Do not avoid conflict. It brings out truth and creativity.
  • Negotiation is not a battle; it’s a process of discovery.
  • Ask questions that open paths to your goals. Persuasion is about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea.
  • Embrace an attitude that is light and encouraging. Relax and smile while you’re talking. Have a positive and playful voice.
  • Prepare. 'When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level of preparation'
  • Observe negativity without reaction and without judgment. Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with solution-based thoughts.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person. The person across the table is not the problem; the situation is.
  • 'Learn to take a punch or punch back, without anger.
  • The more people feel understood, the more likely they will behave constructively.
  • Slow down. 'If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard'. Talking slowly and clearly allow you to convey that you're in control.
  • Don’t just pay attention to what people say, identify the motivation behind what they say.
  • Question the assumptions that others accept on faith or in arrogance. Remain more emotionally open to all possibilities.
  • Be open to a better deal than you initially expect. 'Never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better.'
  • Empathy doesn’t demand that you agree with someone's ideas. It is about acknowledging the other person’s situation and conveying that you are listening.
  • Focus first on clearing the barriers to agreement. Give others permission to say “No” to your ideas.

What are key takeaways from Never Split the Difference?

Takeaway #1: Building Trust to Gather Information

Negotiating successfully, no matter who it's with or in which area of your life, requires you to stay rational and use your intellect, you must build up a rapport so that trust is established and gather as much useful information as possible. You do this by actively listening to what the other person is saying and using the mirroring technique (when you repeat what the other person has said but in an inquisitive tone) to draw more information from them I.e “Your accounts manager quit??” This encourages the other person to elaborate more.

Takeaway #2: Watch your tone of voice throughout these negotiations.

Most times you'll need to use a playful/positive tone, smiling as you speak, but if the other person is nervous or could become upset, use a deep but soft voice, talking slowly to reassure them.

Takeaway #3: Putting Emotions To Use

When negotiating, you must tap into what the other person is feeling, be empathetic towards how the other person is feeling. It doesn't mean agreeing with them, it means understanding the other person's perspective to better position yourself in the negotiations. You can do this through a technique called labeling which means acknowledging the other person's position and feelings so that they become calmer and more rational. Tell the other person that you know they're worried their boss will think they didn't push hard enough, or that you know your kids are worried that their classmates will make fun of them for going to bed an hour earlier.

Takeaway #4: Don't Rush, Don't Compromise, and Don't Accept Demands

Always let the other person make the first offer. If you're in a hurry to settle something you'll come off with the worst end of the bargain. Don't feel rushed as few deadlines are real deadlines set in stone. Take your time to understand what the other person is truly pushing for, not what they say they want as the two are often different and if you rush you could easily give the person something they don't really need or want but just threw in for the sake of it

What are key lessons from Never Split the Difference?

Lesson #1. Going Beyond Rationality

Negotiating successfully requires more than just logic because we humans are not always persuaded by rationality and don’t always accept logic, opting for unpredictable behaviour and letting our primal instincts take over instead.

Our cognitive biases make us act irrationally. This was discovered by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Amos Tversky which upended the 1970s research that said that negotiation was based on humans acting rationally to their own advantage. Kahneman and Tversky identified not just 1 cognitive bias but 150 unique biases. This means that a wise negotiator must understand the human psyche to be successful.

Remember, negotiating skills are not only required in the boardroom and court of law. We all negotiate on a daily basis whether we realize it or not. Think about bedtime negotiations with your kids, negotiations with your spouse over what to do at the weekend, and asking your boss for a pay raise.

Lesson #2. Connection Starts with Respect

Before negotiations can begin you want to know as much information as possible about the situation and the person or people you’re going to be negotiating with. You want to know their needs, goals, and motivations.

In a hostage situation, for example, the negotiator needs to know what the kidnapper wants to achieve, whether they have weapons, whether what they are saying is true or false, how many kidnappers and hostages are inside a building, and so forth.

Creating an amicable connection with the other person is a must hence why you always see FBI agents talking to the criminal. This allows them to learn about their counterparts needs, goals, motivation, as well as their personality whilst also gaining trust which is essential for gaining information.

Lesson #3. From Active Listening to Trust

How do you build trust? Listen to the other person closely and repeat what they say in an inquisitive tone. This technique is called mirroring and shows that you’re empathetic to the other person and understand their point of view and what they are going through.

In a bank robbery situation, for example, let’s say that the robber is asking for a vehicle and has told the negotiator that his driver fled. In this situation, Chris Voss recommends asking the robber “was the driver chased off?” The robber will then feel the need to clarify, allowing the negotiator to piece together more information using the mirroring technique subsequently allowing for the driver to be apprehended.

Mirroring is an effective trust building technique, because it makes the counterpart feel that the person they’re talking to, in this case, the FBI negotiator, is similar to them despite us outsiders realizing that he is just doing his job and trying to resolve the situation peacefully. This technique isn’t only used in hostage situations, however.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman tested the effectiveness of mirroring in a restaurant when wait staff were taking orders. He asked one group of waiters and waitresses to use the mirroring technique (e.g. “ you want the salad but without dressing and then the chicken?”) and the other group to use positive words (such as “no problem” and “great”). The staff who used mirroring received 70% more tips than those who used positive words.

Lesson #4. Adjusting Tone of Voice

The way someone says something is often more important than what they say. Therefore, when negotiating you must remember that the tone of your voice could well make or break the negotiation.

When you’re talking to someone who is becoming angry or upset, you should use a soft and deep voice to calm them down. This soothing voice in which you speak slowly and reassuringly is known as the ‘late-night DJ voice’.

If you need to encourage someone, then you can use a positive and playful tone of voice to show that you’re easy-going yet still empathetic. You want to smile from time to time to convey this even more as, even if the other person cannot see your face, they will be able to hear that smile in your voice. Try the positive tone out when you’re haggling for a better deal whether at a flea market or in a car salesroom and see what happens..

Lesson #5. Tuning Into Emotional Cues

Pay attention to the other person’s emotions and use empathy to your advantage - You don’t have to agree with them, just understand them. Psychotherapists, for example, tap into their patients' emotions so they can help them. You as a negotiator can do the same.

When Chris Voss was called in to negotiate with 4 escaped inmates, who were hiding out in an apartment and thought to be in possession of weapons, he was able to label their emotions. This helped him acknowledge and empathize with the escaped prisoners. Voss told them that he understood they were worried that if they came out of the apartment that they would be shot. He explained that he understood that they were scared and that they did not want to go back to prison. After six hours of communicating with them and building trust with the labeling technique, Voss convinced the prisoners to surrender with no one on either side getting hurt.

Labeling and “Tactical Empathy” are calming techniques that negotiators use to build rapport and consists of telling the other person that you acknowledge his or her feelings, motivations, and position and understand their feelings. This can be invaluable when dealing with someone who is acting irrationally.

Lesson #6. Don’t Accept a Bad Deal

Sometimes people are so keen to find a resolution to a conflict that they end up with a result that is not convenient. To ensure you don’t find yourself in this situation don’t compromise, don’t rush, and don’t accept a bad deal - don’t ‘split the difference’.

The problem with rushing and presuming is that sometimes the counterpart has needs that we are not even aware of which can skew the request and outcome when we wade in fast with a compromise.

Take kidnapping situations as an example and imagine that a kidnapper is saying that unless they get one million dollars by noon tomorrow they’ll kill the hostage. The kidnapper is claiming they want money, but in fact, they might be trying to make a statement. As such, giving the kidnapper the money doesn’t mean the hostage will be released. Know that deadlines are generally flexible so don’t rush and make a mistake by thinking that the deadline is the be all and end all - Negotiate!

In another kidnapping case that Chris Voss negotiated involving the wife of a Haitian police officer who was held for ransom he noticed an interesting pattern. The kidnappers would only request money on weekdays and go quiet on weekends. Voss realized that the kidnappers needed money for a partying habit. This indicated that the deadline and ransom amount were negotiable. Had he compromised due to the pressure of a deadline, he would have missed vital information. His patience, however, enabled him to successfully resolve the situation. Have patience and don’t accept a bad deal!

What are the chapters in Never Split the Difference?

Chapter One - The New Rules
Chapter Two - Be a Mirror
Chapter Three - Don't Feel their Pain, Label It
Chapter Four - Beware 'Yes' - Master 'No'
Chapter Five - Trigger The Two Words that Immediately Transform any Negotiation
Chapter Six - Bend Their Reality
Chapter Seven - Create The Illusion Of Control
Chapter Eight - Guarantee Execution
Chapter Nine - Bargain Hard
Chapter Ten - Find the Black Swan

Never Split the Difference Summary

1. The New Rules - Voss starts by introducing the concept of negotiation and the idea that it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. He discusses the traditional approach to negotiation, which focuses on finding common ground and compromising, and argues that this approach is often unsuccessful. Voss introduces the idea of "tactical empathy," which involves understanding and influencing the other party's perspective and emotions. He also discusses the importance of communication and the role that nonverbal cues and language play in negotiation.

2. The Power of Empathy - Voss discusses the importance of empathy in successful negotiation. He describes empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, and argues that it is a crucial skill for building rapport and establishing trust with others. Voss also discusses the importance of actively listening and using verbal and nonverbal cues to show empathy, and provides strategies for using empathy to build relationships and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes in negotiation.

3. Mirroring - Voss discusses the concept of mirroring as a negotiation strategy. He describes how mirroring involves repeating back to the other person the last few words they said in a calm, neutral tone. Voss explains that mirroring helps to establish rapport and build trust with the other person, and can also be used to probe for more information or to deflect difficult questions. He also provides examples of how to effectively use mirroring in different negotiation situations.

4. Labeling - Voss discusses the concept of "labeling," which is a technique used in negotiation to reframe and acknowledge the other party's emotions and perspective. Voss describes how labeling can be used to establish rapport, reduce tension, and gain a better understanding of the other party's needs and motivations. He also discusses the importance of using specific and nonjudgmental /language when labeling, and how this can help to create a more constructive and positive negotiation dynamic. Voss provides examples and exercises to help readers practice and implement the technique of labeling in their own negotiations.

5. Accusation Audit - The accusation audit is a technique that involves listing and addressing the other party's complaints or accusations in order to resolve any conflicts or misunderstandings that may be hindering the negotiation.Voss argues that the accusation audit is an effective way to build trust and rapport with the other party, as it shows them that you are willing to listen to their concerns and address any issues that may be causing tension or conflict. He suggests using calibrated questions and active listening to gather information and understand the other person's perspective during the accusation audit. Voss also advises against becoming defensive or reacting emotionally during the accusation audit, as this can escalate the situation and undermine the trust and rapport that you have built with the other party. Instead, he recommends staying calm and focused on finding a resolution to the issues at hand. By using the accusation audit effectively, you can resolve conflicts and move forward in the negotiation with a stronger foundation of trust and understanding.

6. Setting the Hook - Voss discusses the technique of "Setting the Hook." This involves using a question or statement to create uncertainty or discomfort in the other party, in order to gain leverage in the negotiation. Voss suggests using open-ended questions or making statements that challenge the other party's assumptions in order to "set the hook" and create an opportunity for further discussion and negotiation. He also emphasizes the importance of being sincere and genuine in this process, and avoiding the use of manipulation or deception.

7. The Boomerang - Voss discusses the concept of "The Boomerang," which is a negotiation technique used to redirect the conversation back to the other party's interests. Voss explains that by using empathy and mirroring techniques, a negotiator can steer the conversation towards the other party's interests and needs, which helps to build trust and establish common ground. Voss also emphasizes the importance of being patient and allowing the other party to fully express their needs and concerns before trying to negotiate a solution. He also advises against trying to convince or persuade the other party, as this can often lead to resistance and a breakdown in communication.

8. Bonding - Voss discusses the concept of "bonding" in negotiation. Voss argues that bonding is a key component of successful negotiation, as it helps to build trust and establish a sense of connection between the parties involved. Voss suggests that there are several ways to bond with someone during a negotiation, including using open-ended questions, mirroring the other person's body language and vocal tone, and showing genuine interest in their perspective. He also emphasizes the importance of being authentic and transparent in order to build trust and establish a strong bond.

9. The Power of No - Voss discusses the concept of "no." Voss argues that "no" is a powerful tool in negotiation, as it allows you to set boundaries, establish control, and protect your interests. However, he also cautions that "no" can be a divisive word that can create tension and damage trust if used improperly. Voss suggests several strategies for using "no" effectively in negotiation, including using it in a way that invites further discussion and using it as a way to reframe the conversation. He also advises against using "no" as a way to shut down the conversation or as a way to attack the other party. Instead, he recommends using "no" in a way that is respectful and constructive, in order to maintain trust and continue the negotiation process. Voss also discusses the concept of "the no alternative," which is a technique that involves presenting the other party with a choice between two options, both of which involve a "no." He argues that this technique can be an effective way to achieve a win-win outcome in a negotiation, as it allows both parties to feel as though they have gained something while also protecting their interests.

10. Anchoring - Anchoring refers to the tendency for people to rely too heavily on the first piece of information that they receive when making a decision. This can be especially problematic in negotiation, as the initial anchor can set the tone and direction of the negotiation, and it can be difficult to change course once it has been set. Voss suggests several ways to effectively use anchoring in negotiation, including setting an initial anchor that is significantly higher or lower than what you hope to achieve, and using calibrated questions to gather information and influence the other party's perception of value. He also advises against letting the other party set the initial anchor, as it can be difficult to recover from a disadvantageous starting point.

11. Tactical empathy - Tactical empathy is the ability to understand and effectively communicate with the other party in a negotiation by accurately identifying and expressing their emotions. Voss argues that tactical empathy is a crucial skill for successful negotiation, as it allows you to build trust and rapport with the other party and to better understand their perspective. Voss suggests that using calibrated questions and the "label" technique can be effective ways to demonstrate tactical empathy during a negotiation. He also advises against using "false empathy," which is when you pretend to understand or share the other person's emotions in order to manipulate them. Voss argues that false empathy is not only ineffective, but it can also damage the trust and rapport that you have built with the other party. Instead, Voss recommends using genuine empathy and authenticity in order to build a strong foundation for successful negotiation. He emphasizes the importance of being sincere and transparent in order to establish trust and understanding with the other party, which will ultimately lead to a more successful outcome in the negotiation.

12. The Veto - The veto is a powerful tool that can be used in a negotiation to prevent an agreement from being reached. Voss argues that the veto should be used sparingly, as it can be a "nuclear option" that can damage the trust and rapport that you have built with the other party. However, he also suggests that the veto can be an effective tool in certain situations, such as when the other party is being unreasonable or when the terms of the agreement are not in your best interest.Voss advises that the veto should be used as a last resort, and only after you have exhausted all other options for reaching an agreement. He also suggests that the veto should be used in a strategic and calculated manner, in order to maximize its impact and minimize the potential damage to the relationship with the other party.

13. The flinch - The flinch is a physical reaction that occurs when someone is confronted with a sudden or unexpected stimulus, such as a loud noise or a sudden movement. Voss argues that the flinch can be used as a tool in negotiation, as it can reveal the other person's underlying concerns or fears. Voss suggests that by noticing and acknowledging the other person's flinch, you can show them that you are aware of their concerns and that you are willing to address them. This can help to build trust and rapport with the other party and establish a foundation for successful negotiation. Voss also advises against intentionally causing the flinch, as it can be perceived as aggressive or confrontational and may damage the trust and rapport that you have built with the other party. Instead, he recommends using calibrated questions and other tactics to gently probe the other person's concerns and address them in a constructive and collaborative manner.

14. Calibrated questions- Calibrated questions are open-ended questions that are carefully crafted and used to gather information, build rapport, and create a sense of partnership with the other party in a negotiation. Voss argues that calibrated questions are a powerful tool for successful negotiation, as they allow you to gather important information, clarify misunderstandings, and demonstrate your genuine interest in the other party's perspective. He suggests using calibrated questions to probe for the other party's interests, concerns, and motivations, as well as to explore potential options and solutions. Voss also advises against using "why" questions, as they can be perceived as confrontational or accusatory. Instead, he recommends using "how" and "what" questions, which are more neutral and less likely to trigger a defensive response from the other party. By using calibrated questions effectively, you can gather valuable information, build rapport, and create a sense of partnership with the other party, which will ultimately lead to a more successful outcome in your negotiation.

What is a good quote from Never Split the Difference?

"Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible." ― Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference Quotes.

What does it mean to "Never split the difference"?

The phrase "never split the difference" refers to the idea that in a negotiation, it is important to aim for a "mutual win" where both parties feel that they have achieved their desired outcomes, rather than simply trying to find a middle ground or compromise that leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied. Voss argues that in order to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome, it is important to listen actively and empathize with the other party in order to understand their perspective and needs, and to be flexible and willing to compromise in order to find a solution that works for both parties. By following these principles, you can avoid simply "splitting the difference" and instead find a resolution that truly meets the needs and interests of both parties.

How to negotiate a salary based on the book's principles?

Here are some tips for negotiating salary based on the principles outlined in Chris Voss's book "Never Split the Difference":

  1. Do your research: Know the market value for your job and have data to back up your request for a higher salary.
  2. Prepare for the negotiation: Know your own goals and boundaries and have a clear understanding of what you want and what you are willing to accept.
  3. Make the first offer: By making the first offer, you can set the initial anchor point and give yourself more leverage in the negotiation.
  4. Listen actively and empathize with the other party: Try to understand their perspective and needs, and show them that you are willing to work towards a "win-win" solution.
  5. Use open-ended questions and reflective listening: These techniques can help to build rapport and trust, and can also help you to gather more information about the other party's perspective.
  6. Be flexible and willing to compromise: Look for ways to meet the needs of both parties and find a solution that works for everyone.
  7. Don't get emotionally invested in the outcome: Stay calm and focused on your goals, and remember that there may be other options or opportunities if this negotiation does not work out.
  8. Manage your body language and emotions: Be aware of how you are coming across and try to project confidence and openness.

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about Never Split the Difference: "Chatty and friendly and packed with helpful resources, this is an intriguing approach to business and personal negotiations." — Publishers Weekly

* The summary points above have been summarized from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including the published quotes, book chapters, and key takeaways.

Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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