Never Split the Difference: Takeaways and Point Summary

Former International FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss lets readers into his head so they can learn how to successfully negotiate in any area of their lives. In this guide he shares the nine essential strategies and he used to successfully negotiate with terrorists, bank robbers and other criminals who had taken a hostage. Ordinary people will learn how to best negotiate in their own lives, for their salary, with their spouse or at work.

Key Takeaways from Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

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

In-Depth 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!

Key Points from Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

  • 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 for 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.



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Never Split the Difference Chapters

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

* Key Sources: Amazon, Never Split the Difference: Summary Review


My Favorite Quotes from Never Split the Difference

"Conflict brings out truth, creativity, and resolution.. He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation."

"The beauty of empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other person’s ideas.. If you approach a negotiation thinking the other guy thinks like you, you are wrong. That's not empathy, that's a projection."

"Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you."

"Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible."

"It’s a phenomenon (and now technique) that follows a very basic but profound biological principle: We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Mirroring, then, when practiced consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity."

"Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding. Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy."

"Another simple rule is, when you are verbally assaulted, do not counterattack. Instead, disarm your counterpart by asking a calibrated question."

"Psychotherapy research shows that when individuals feel listened to, they tend to listen to themselves more carefully and to openly evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings... Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do."

"Research shows that the best way to deal with negativity is to observe it, without reaction and without judgment. Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts."

"The positive/playful voice: Should be your default voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking."

"Though the intensity may differ from person to person, you can be sure that everyone you meet is driven by two primal urges: the need to feel safe and secure, and the need to feel in control. If you satisfy those drives, you’re in the door."

"The fastest and most efficient means of establishing a quick working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and diffuse it."

― Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It


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Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. 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 most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.


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Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. 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 most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.

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