Never Split the Difference

Summary of Never split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz: The authors teach us how to negotiate like an expert using detailed concepts and concrete examples from their experience in the field with the FBI!

By Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, 2016, 374 pages.

Full title: Never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it

Chronicle and summary of Never split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl

Chapter 1 – The New Rules

This book by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz starts with a bang with a chapter about a hostage situation. And it is not just any hostage situation. The son of Chris Voss, one of the book’s authors, was being held hostage against a ransom of 1 million dollars.

Little by little, we come to understand the circumstances of the event. In reality, Chris Voss was at Harvard Law School taking a negotiation class, and he took part in a role play led by Robert Mnookin (director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project) and Gabriella Blum, a specialist in international negotiations, armed conflicts and counterterrorism.

Using a special technique taken from his field experience, Chris Voss turned the situation around:

“I was employing what had become one of the FBI’s most potent negotiating tools: the open-ended question. […] we call this tactic calibrated questions: queries that the other side can respond to, but that have no fixed answers.”

This technique can maintain the illusion that the hostage taker is in a position of strength; while the negotiator plays for time. This is how Chris Voss successfully ended the role play. By showing the Harvard professors the limits of their theoretical models; the author of Never Split the Difference underlines the importance of taking human relationships into consideration in every kind of negotiation.

The smartest dumb guy in the room

During an exercise in sales negotiation at Harvard, Chris Voss once again demonstrated the superiority of his technique by getting prices that were the envy of every other person in his class. He goes on to describe the calibrated question method”:

While I wasn’t actually saying “No,” the questions I kept asking sounded like it. […] “It’s a passive-aggressive approach. I just ask the same three or four open-ended questions over and over and over and over. They get worn out answering and give me everything I want.”

The author of Never Split the Difference highlights the need to understand that as humans we are irrational animals, ruled by “our fears, needs, perceptions, and desires.”. While the negotiating theories taught at Harvard relied on rationality and moral values.

“I realized that without a deep understanding of human psychology, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.”

To end this section, Chris Voss makes a parallel between a kidnapper and a businessperson who find themselves engaged in active and aggressive negotiation.

Old School Negotiation

Negotiating is nothing new, but negotiating techniques have evolved over the centuries. After a series of failed hostage negotiations in the USA in the 1970s, the methods of the FBI were called directly into question.

Heart versus Mind

In this dynamic of change, the Harvard Negotiation Project was created in 1979, “with a mandate to improve the theory, teaching and practice of negotiation so that people could more effectively handle everything from peace treaties to business mergers.”

It led to the theory of Roger Fisher and William Ury according to which problem solving becomes systematic in order to find a mutually beneficial deal. The approach is broken down into four principles:

    • Separate the person – the emotion – from the problem”.
    • Don’t get wrapped up in the other side’s position (what they are asking for), but instead focus on their interests (why they are asking for it), so that you can find out what they really want”.
    • “Work cooperatively generate win-win options”.
    • “Establish mutually agreed-upon standards for evaluating those possible solutions”.

Man is a deeply irrational beast

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman went on to explore the field of behavioural economics and show that humans are profoundly irrational beasts. Prior to that, negotiations had always been perceived as rational.

All humans suffer from cognitive bias, which is unconscious – and irrational – brain processes that literally distort the way we see the world.”

Among these forms of bias are the Framing effect, Prospect Theory and Loss Aversion. Each one develops different responses of a human being faced with the concept of risk or loss.

The authors end this point by mentioning the book Thinking Fast and Slow, in which Daniel Kahneman exposes the idea that humans are governed by two thought systems:

System 1, our animal mind, is fast, instinctive and emotional; system 2 is slow, deliberative and logical. And system 1 is far more influential.”

According to this diagram, the reaction of system 2 is informed by that of System 1. It therefore becomes possible to influence the other person’s response by guiding them to reflect on their position. In an example, we understand that this thought process offers the other person the chance to rationalise their offer.

“If you believed Kahneman, conducting negotiations based on System 2 without the tools to read, understand and manipulate the System 1 emotional underpinning was like trying to make an omelette without first knowing how to crack an egg.”

The FBI gets emotional

In the 1980-90s, the most frequently used method is the one developed in the book Getting to Yes. Although an excellent book, it considered hostage situations to be rational, and that is clearly not the case.

Most hostage situations are anything but rational problem-solving situations. It was becoming clear that the emphasis would have to turn to “the animal, emotional and irrational.” This meant that the emphasis would need to switch to education in the psychological skills needed to lead successful negotiations.

This new vision led to the implementation of strategies based on emotional intelligence to transform the relationship with hostage takers and change their behaviour.

“It all starts with the universally applicable premise that everyone wants to be understood and accepted.”

This idea, as Chris Voss and Tahl Raz remind us; underpins the crucial part played by active listening to achieve tactical empathy:

“Balancing the subtle behaviours of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence; to gain access to the mind of the other person.”

Life is negotiation

Negotiating is part of everyday life, at the heart of most relationships. It is the expression of a desire, and it has two key functions: to gather information and influence the other person’s behaviour.

“Negotiation […] is nothing more than communication with results. Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from—and with— other people.”

The goal of Never Split the Difference is to teach us how to make the most of every negotiation. For the authors:

Effective negotiation is applied people smarts, a psychological edge in every domain of life: how to size someone up, how to influence their sizing up of you, and how to use that knowledge to get what you want.”

The book

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz’s book Never Split the Difference offers details about the different tools for successful negotiation, with concrete examples drawn from the author’s experience.

“Just remember, to successfully negotiate it is critical to prepare.”

Chapter 2 – Be a mirror

Chris Voss returns here to his first mission to free hostages. It was a bank heist in Brooklyn, at the end of September 1993. When he got there, there was very little information about the situation and the demands of the hijackers.

Assumptions blind, hypotheses guide

Every hostage situation relies on a common base: uncertainty. This leads negotiators to envisage several hypotheses. Because of this, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz insist on the importance of the present moment to grasp all the new information, each piece of which represents a “step forward”.

“Great negotiators are able to question the assumptions that the rest of the involved players accept on faith or in arrogance, and thus remain more emotionally open to all possibilities, and more intellectually agile to a fluid situation.”

Moving beyond your own beliefs or assumptions allows you to maintain the agility to adapt to any changes in a situation.

Calm the schizophrenic

The situation inside the bank was very unclear, so the authors praise the strength of teamwork when it comes to optimising information gathering in order to offer some fast responses. They also highlight the crucial part played by active listening, without forgetting its shortcomings:

“We are easily distracted. We engage in selective listening, hearing only what we want to hear, our minds acting on a cognitive bias for consistency rather than truth. And that’s just the start.”

Chris Voss takes things further, describing what happens in the heads of the two protagonists during the process of negotiation. He calls this a “state of schizophrenia”:

“When they’re not talking, they’re thinking about their arguments, and when they are talking, they’re making their arguments. […] everyone just listening to the voice in their head (and not well, because they’re doing seven or eight other things at the same time).”

If you want to bring the negotiation to a successful conclusion, understanding the real needs of the other person is decisive, rather than focussing on your own goals. If the other party feels in a safe place, listened to, they will put a name to their desires.


“If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard and we risk undermining the rapport and trust we’ve built.”

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz point out that slowing the pace and taking time to listen to the other person can reposition the situation, even appease it.

The voice

In a hostage situation, negotiations take place remotely, by telephone. The voice is therefore the only element that is perceptible to the parties. Chris Voss talks about the importance of adopting the “late-night FM DJ voice”, the voice of calm and reason.

We can transmit a whole way of being using the voice:

“That’s why your most powerful tool in any verbal communication is your voice. You can use your voice to intentionally reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch.   […] In an instant, the switch will flip just like that with the right delivery.”

The author of Never Split the Difference reveals three types of “voice”:

    • That of the late-night FM DJ, using a downward intonation, presenting the other party with a form of control over the situation
    • The positive, playful voice that intends to be “light and encouraging”
    • The direct voice, not recommended by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, because it suggests a form of domination that would damage any kind of negotiation, unless the right intonation is used

“You can be very direct and to the point as long as you create safety by a tone of voice that says “I’m okay, you’re okay, let’s figure things out.”


As the name suggests, this technique, as used in the framework of FBI negotiations, consists of imitating the other person to get closer to them.

“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. […] Mirroring, when practised consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity.”

For this connection to become established, you need to repeat the other person’s last words to encourage them to elaborate on what they were saying.

“The ability to get inside the head – and eventually under the skin – of your counterpart depends on these techniques and a willingness to change your approach, based on new evidence, along the way.”

How to confront – and get your way – without confrontation

For many people, negotiating necessarily implies conflict. But Chris Voss disputes this idea by explaining the using the techniques he develops in Never Split the Difference, it is possible to disagree with your counterpart without their sensing it.

He suggests a four-step method:

  1. “Use the late-night FM DJ voice.”
  2. “Start with “I’m sorry”…” 
  3. “Mirror.”
  4. “Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart.”
  5. “Repeat.”

However, repeating can be fraught with danger. Do not ask the person to repeat what they said directly. It is better to mirror them to avoid irritating your counterpart.

“A mirror, however, will get you the clarity you want while signalling respect and concern for what the other person is saying.”

While this method may seem difficult at first, by practising it regularly it becomes natural.

Key lessons

Negotiation is primarily a language of conversation and rapport: a way of quickly establishing relationships and getting people to talk and think together.”

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz insist once again on the importance of placing the negotiation in the present moment. They also insist on the importance of the relationship formed between the parties. It must be thought of as a process that evolves using techniques such as that of mirroring.

Chapter 3 – Don’t feel their pain, label it

At the start of the third chapter, Chris Voss tells the story of three armed fugitives who were holed up in a building. They were members of a gang wanted by the FBI in connection with a gunfight with a rival gang in 1998.

The author of Never Split the Difference highlights the importance of emotions in such situations. According to him, you cannot separate individuals from their emotions, because they are in fact the problem.

“Emotions are one of the main things that derail communication. Once people get upset at one another, rational thinking goes out the window.”

That is why, to negotiate well, you need to perceive emotions as an instrument, a way to influence the other person.

“[Good negotiators] are able to precisely label emotions, those of others and especially their own. And once they label the emotions, they talk about them without getting wound up.”

The relationship in a negotiation has many similarities with that between a therapist and a patient, due to the use of emotional intelligence.

“The psychotherapist pokes and prods to understand his patient’s problems, and then turns the responses back onto the patient to get him to go deeper and change his behaviour. That’s exactly what good negotiators do.”

Tactical empathy

Chris Voss returns to the story with the three fugitives. He explains that he spent six hours talking to them through the door (there was no telephone), without getting an answer.  And yet, they surrendered without a word. His technique was to put himself in their shoes, by putting words to what they might have been feeling at that moment.

He demonstrates that ignoring the other person, their desires, expectations or needs, only leads to frustration, putting an end to any form of negotiation. Conversely, tactical empathy offers much better results.

“Empathy is paying attention to another human being, asking what they are feeling, and making a commitment to understanding their world. […] One step beyond that is tactical empathy. Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow.”

Looking at things from the perspective of the other person, thinking along their line of reasoning is part of “soft” communication. This method is therefore particularly useful to move a negotiation forward.

“…Empathy is not about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them. Empathy helps us to learn the position the enemy is in, why their actions make sense (to them), and what might move them.”


By describing the process he used to successfully get the fugitives to surrender, Chris Voss introduces the concept of labelling.

“We spotted their feelings, turned them into words, and then very calmly and respectfully repeated their emotions back to them.  […] Labelling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it.”

This method can diminish the intensity of an emotion or a feeling, simply by naming it. However, in order to function, it must follow precise rules:

    • Initially, it is about identifying the emotional state of your counterpart,
    • Then naming the emotion that you are going to lean into. Naming it can be in the form of a statement or a question, but usually using the pronoun “it” as a neutral means of understanding rather than using the first person “I”.
    • Finally, silence is the last step in the process: wait for the other person to take up what you have just revealed.

“…a label’s power is that it invites the other person to reveal himself.”

Neutralise the negative, reinforce the positive

Negotiation requires proficiency in several tactics, and labelling is one of them. They move the other person “towards collaboration and trust.” You first need to separate two levels of emotions: visible behaviour and the underlying emotions that will determine the former.

“What good negotiators do when labelling is address those underlying emotions. Labelling negatives diffuses them (or defuses them, in extreme cases); labelling positives reinforces them.” ”

It leads the other parties to focus on their emotions rather than on their arguments. Furthermore, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz remind about the importance of taking an interest in the negative: by putting a name to something that is not right, you will strengthen the relationship and turn it into the positive.

Clear the road before advertising the destination

Now that the importance of emotions in negotiations has been established, the authors of Never Split the Difference turn to the question of fears. Labelling feelings of fear is decisive because it can reduce them and above all strengthen the other person’s sense of being understood.

“Once they’ve been labelled and brought into the open, the negative reactions in your counterpart’s amygdala will begin to soften. I promise it will shock you how suddenly his language turns from worry to optimism. Empathy is a powerful mood enhancer.”

However, in certain cases, there are several “layers” of fear inside the other party. They can be seen in a number of behaviours, but they are not the reflection of a single emotion. It is important to correctly label each underlying feeling to find the right solution.

Do an accusation audit

This subsection begins with another story. As part of his classes in negotiation, Chris Voss always looks for volunteers to take part in exercises. Nobody ever spontaneously raises their hand. But once the fear has a name, it becomes less threatening. This example allows him to demonstrate the importance of taking negative emotions into account so that they will not be reinforced, but defused.

To reach this goal, you can do an “accusation audit”. Make a list of all of the other person’s potential accusations, so that you can respond to them. By getting out in front, by clearly naming the criticism being levelled at you, you can defuse your counterpart’s attack and provoke a kind of “safe empathy”. This creates a feeling of being understood in the other person that will soften their criticism.

Get a seat – and an upgrade – on a sold-out flight

This subsection develops a new negotiation tactic in the form of a musical metaphor in which the preceding skills (mirroring, labelling…) are presented in the form of musical instruments. They can help you get an upgrade after you miss a flight.

Key lessons

To end this chapter, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz recall the importance of emotional intelligence, whether listening, understanding or tactical empathy. They invite us to perceive this as “the extension of natural human interactions.”

Finally, they repeat that to negotiate well, you must put yourself in the other person’s position, name the obstacles and fears in order to remove them. This labelling process is an additional advantage that strengthens the relationship of trust that is essential to all negotiation.

Chapter 4 – Beware “Yes” – Master “No”

To question the relevance of “yes” as a simple answer, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz use the example of getting a call from a telemarketer. Most of the questions they ask force you to answer “yes” without leaving you with a choice. But these answers do not necessarily reflect your opinion. They are merely a device used as part of the sales process.

They can even go further by establishing “no” as a response that has negative connotations, so it becomes more acceptable socially to answer “yes.”

However, “yes” is not an answer that offers much to negotiators in the sense that it gives an element of an answer that does not invite you to explore further.

“For good negotiators, “No” is pure gold. That negative provides a terrific opportunity for you and the other party to clarify what you really want by eliminating what you don’t want.”

“No” starts the negotiation

Once again, Chris Voss uses a story from his own professional experience. He talks about his interview with Amy Bonderow to be a negotiator in hostage situations. During the interview, Chris Voss answered each of her questions with a negative. So in the end, she said “no” to his request for the job. This “no” did lead the author to find a way around it.

“No” avoids an immediate change. It is a question of time that is being played out by the use of the term.

In Start with No, Jimmy Camp highlights the strength of the right to veto.

“He observes that people will fight to the death to preserve their right to say “No,” so give them that right and the negotiating environment becomes more constructive and collaborative almost immediately.

As part of a negotiation, you need to show the other party that change is more beneficial to them than maintaining the status quo that saying “no” leads to. “No” should not be taken as an end, but as the first glimmer of a change in the situation.

Persuade in their world

There are three types of “yes”. The “yes” that is:

    • Counterfeit: as in the example of the telemarketer, it’s a “yes” to get out, or at the very least, it is not sincere.
    • Confirmation: Instinctive and affirmative, it is not guarantee of action;
    • Commitment: as the name implies, it is a true agreement.

The three types sound almost the same, which is why you have to pay close attention to get the true meaning.

“Human beings the world over are so used to being pursued for the commitment “yes” as a condition to find out more that they have become masters at giving the counterfeit “yes.”

Using a counter-example with Daryl during his time working for a suicide hotline, Chris Voss demonstrates how vital it can be to persuade your counterpart according to his perspective and not your own.

“…while we can’t control others’ decisions, we can influence them by inhabiting their world and seeing and hearing exactly what they want.”

The authors of Never Split the Difference explain that the primal needs of feeling safe and in control are “urgent and illogical”. Finally, beware of being nice. It can be counter-productive because it can be perceived as a manipulation strategy.

““No” starts conversations and creates safe havens to get to the final “Yes” of commitment.”

“No” is protection

The problem with the perception of “yes” and “no”, is the value you give to each of the terms and the fact of thinking about them simply in terms of opposition. As the start of the chapter endeavoured to show, “no” is not a failure or a form of rejection. It opens the negotiation and is an affirmation of independence in the conversation.

“Saying “No” gives the speaker the feeling of safety, security, and control. You use a question that prompts a “No” answer, and your counterpart feels that by turning you down he has proved that he’s in the driver’s seat. Good negotiators welcome— even invite—a solid “No” to start, as a sign that the other party is engaged and thinking.”

Under certain conditions, you can actively seek a “no” from the other party to provoke a reaction or get some new information.

Email magic

The authors of Never Split the Difference go on to suggest a simple and effective method to deal with emails that are being ignored. It can be summed up in one sentence: “Have you given up on this project?”

The other party will have to respond in order to retain their position of power in the relationship.

Key lessons

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz remind us that negotiation does not involve “being nice” as a social convention.

“Extracting that information means getting the other party to feel safe and in control. And while it may sound contradictory, the way to get there is by getting the other party to disagree, to draw their own boundaries, to define their desires as a function of what they do not want.”

Chapter 5 – Trigger the two words that immediately transform the negotiation

At the start of chapter five of Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss tells the story of a kidnapping in the Philippines by the Islamic group Abou Sayyaf. A young American was being held in exchange for a ten million dollar ransom. At the time, in 2000, Chris Voss was working for the Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU).

This unit based its method on a “Behavioural Change Stairway Model” or BCSM:

“The model proposes five stages – active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioural change – that take any negotiator from listening to influencing behaviour.”

However, for the model to work, it has to be based on an unconditional positive regard. This is what makes it difficult. For many of us, our acts need to be accepted and considered to be correct, in order to receive approval. Therefore, people alter their behaviour to match society’s expectations.

The stairway model aims to improve trust and connection, to get an unconditional positive regard and go on to influence the behaviour of the other party. To find out where you stand in this process, it is useful to take an interest in the answers you obtain: A “yes”, as explained in the previous chapter, is not enough. You need to aim for “That’s right.”

Create a subtle epiphany

The “that’s right” breakthrough “is invisible to the counterpart, and they embrace what you’ve said. To them, it’s a subtle epiphany.”

Trigger a “That’s Right” with a summary

To move the negotiation forward with Sabbaya, the head of the Abou Sayyaf group, Chris Voss used all the elements of the method that have been developed so far, in other words pauses and silences, mirroring, labelling and paraphrasing, to which he now added the summary.

“A good summary is the combination of rearticulating the meaning of what is said plus the acknowledgement of the emotions underlying the meaning (paraphrasing + labelling = summary).”

The summary should lead to the highly anticipated “that’s true” and even the end of the conflict.

“When your adversaries say, “That’s right”, they feel they have assessed what you’ve said and pronounced it as correct of their own free will. They embrace it.”

“That’s right” is great, but with “You’re right,” nothing changes

“Driving toward “That’s right” is a winning strategy in all negotiations. But hearing “You’re right” is a disaster.”

In fact, this answer is anything but a genuine agreement. It is simply a strategy to be left alone. Chris Voss takes the example of his son Brandon, an American football player, to explain the move from the perfectly useless “you’re right” to the game-changing “that’s right.”

Using “That’s right” to make the sale

Taking the different pieces of information obtained over the course of a conversation, summarising them and labelling the underlying emotions as described by Chris Voss throughout Never Split the Difference allows the other person to feel understood, and therefore trust you. The barriers fall and lead to “That’s right”, as is the case in the example given between a doctor and a representative of a major pharmaceutical company.”

Using “That’s right” for career success

In the continuity of what has already been explained, Chris Voss demonstrates here how to use “That’s right” to advance your professional career. He takes the example of an employee who wants to change departments but his boss refuses to support his application.

The employee needs to find the reasons that will push his boss to act on his behalf and admit what is holding him back. Using a process of mirroring and labelling, he will get the “That’s right” that will turn the situation to his advantage. And so he discovers the two “black swans”: the underlying reasons for his boss’s behaviour (this concept will be explained further later on in the book Never Split the Difference).

Key lessons

“With each party having its own set of objectives, its own goals and motivations, the truth is that the conversational niceties—the socially lubricating “yeses” and “you’re rights” that get thrown out fast and furious early in any interaction—are not in any way a substitute for real understanding between you and your partner.”

To achieve your aims, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz recommend “foundations”, in other words an unconditional positive regard to create a feeling of understanding in the other person, looking for the “That’s right” and using a summary.

Chapter 6 – Bend their reality

The sixth chapter of Never Split the Difference begins with the story of a kidnapping in Haiti in 2004, with a ransom demand of $150,000. Negotiating seemed to be out of the question. However, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz explain the use of leverage to move the situation forward.

“Once you understand that subterranean world of unspoken needs and thoughts, you’ll discover a universe of variables that can be leveraged to change your counterpart’s needs and expectations.”

Don’t compromise

In this subsection, Chris Voss wants to put an end to any thoughts of compromise, hence the title of the book – Never Split the Difference. While an approach of empathy and cooperation is fundamental, compromise is the worst possible result.

“We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face.”

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz invite us to leave the comfort zone of compromise to achieve a specific goal and get the deal that you want.

“So don’t settle and […] never split the difference. Creative solutions are almost always preceded by some degree of risk, annoyance, confusion, and conflict.”

Deadlines: make time your ally

“The simple passing of time and its sharper cousin, the deadline, are the screw that pressures every deal to a conclusion.”

With these words, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz insist on the weight of time in a negotiation; emphasizing that it is essential to avoid being hasty. They invite us to “resist the urge” to urgency.

In contrast to what many people think, a deadline should not be the only guide in a negotiation: if you give into it, you will become the hostage. This situation will lead to poor choices on your part.

Deadlines are often arbitrary, almost always flexible, and hardly ever trigger the consequences we think—or are told—they will.”

In contrast, patience is a remarkable weapon in any form of negotiation. It can offer the benefit of new information. This is how negotiators began to discover, in the Haiti story, that there were no political demands behind the spate of kidnappings. They were simply a good way to pay for the weekend festivities.

However, even though you may think that keeping a deadline secret is a good idea for a negotiator to get the upper hand, it is not true. Both parties need to agree on it.

“When the negotiation is over for one side, it’s over for the other too.”

According to Don A. Moore, “hiding a deadline actually puts the negotiator in the worst possible position” because there is a risk that the negotiations will hit a wall.

“…When an opponent knows your deadline, he’ll get to the real deal-and concession-making more quickly.”

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz emphasize that the process of negotiating and the time it takes are essential, while warning that no deadline is written in stone.

No such thing as fair

This subsection begins with a story about a role play with Chris Voss’s students and the “Ultimatum Game”. The students split into pairs, one proposing and one accepting, and they have to share $10 between them with a round figure each. At the end of the exercise, it turns out that no split is in the majority. This goes to show that our reasoning is irrational and emotional.

None of the students appealed to reason, simply thinking that the other person was thinking along the same lines. But according to the author of “Never Split the Difference”:

“If you approach a negotiation thinking that the other guy thinks like you, you’re wrong,” I say. “That’s not empathy; that’s projection.”

Chris Voss uses this exercise to show how much space emotions occupy in our decision-making.

The F-word: why it’s so powerful, when to use it, and how

“The most powerful word in negotiations is “Fair.” […] People comply with agreements if they feel they’ve been treated fairly and lash out if they don’t.”

Unfairness provokes irrational reactions. For example, in order to feel that we have been treated “fairly”, we prefer to refuse an agreement if we consider it to be too low, rather than take the money anyway. This rejection can be a very powerful motivator, in any situation.

The authors of Never Split the Difference even refer to it as an “f-bomb” when using the word “fair” as part of negotiations. There are three ways to use the F-bomb. It can be used as:

    • A defensive movement, to destabilise the adversary;
    • A form of accusation against the other person, insinuating that they are dishonest
    • A positive and constructive objective, where we recognise the other person as being honest

How to discover the emotional drivers behind what the other party values

“If you can get the other party to reveal their problems, pain, and unmet objectives—if you can get at what people are really buying—then you can sell them a vision of their problem that leaves your proposal as the perfect solution.”

Bend their reality

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz demonstrate, using a very simple example, that perspectives can change the course of negotiations. If you take one price, €100, depending on what side you are on, the price can be very satisfactory, or it can be considered an insult. While the reaction is irrational, the mental pathways that programme it are not. They can therefore be influenced.

Prospect Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky develops the principle of irrational decisions:

“The theory argues that people are drawn to sure things over probabilities, even when the probability is a better choice. That’s called the Certainty Effect. And people will take greater risks to avoid losses than to achieve gains.  That’s called Loss Aversion. 

So, when it comes to negotiating, all you have to do is demonstrate that you have something that the other person wants, and that they have something to lose if the deal falls through.

Anchor the other party’s emotions

To anchor emotions, the authors invite any negotiator to make an accusations audit with the goal of recognising the other party’s fears. By playing with the principle of loss aversion previously explained, they will find it easier to direct perceptions moving forward.

Let the other guy go first… most of the time

Another important point when you begin to negotiate is that you don’t have enough information. While luck may be on your side, your degree of confidence is too low to be able to successfully change things.

Having said that, if you let the other person go first, you need to be prepared to resist their first attack. This is “extreme anchoring”.

“If the other guy’s a pro, a shark, he’s going to go for an extreme anchor in order to bend your reality. Then, when they come back with a merely absurd offer it will seem reasonable. The tendency to be anchored by extreme numbers is a psychological quirk known as the “anchor and adjustment” effect. Researchers have discovered that we tend to make adjustments from our first reference points.”

Establish a range

Setting a price range is a very interesting negotiating instrument because it gives the other person the impression that you are making an offer, and this automatically transforms their reality.

“That gets your point across without moving the other party into a defensive position. And it gets him thinking at higher levels.”

For example, when asked about the salary you want, the idea is to propose the amount that you want at the lower end of the price range by establishing a higher range. The other person has the impression of being in control and you will get the salary you want.

Pivot to non-monetary terms

“People get hung up on “How much?” But don’t deal with numbers in isolation. That leads to bargaining, a series of rigid positions defined by emotional views of fairness and pride.”  Non-monetary exchanges can make an agreement. This was the case when Chris Voss agreed to a fee for a training course that was well below his usual rate, but the client also put him on the cover of a professionally recognised magazine.

When you do talk numbers, use odd ones

To negotiate well, you need to give the impression that you master the ins and outs of every element. To help with this, use exact figures and never approximations, demonstrating that your calculations are solid.

Surprise with a gift

With the goal of improving your relationship with your counterpart, and to deal with an initial refusal, you can introduce the idea of reciprocity into the negotiations. As a moral rule in every society, this will induce the need to reimburse a debt, or make an exchange, to restore balance. Whether you raise your offer and supplement it with a gift, you have a better chance of coming out of the discussion on top.

How to negotiate a better salary 

The process to get a salary increase takes place in three parts:

    • Be pleasantly persistent on non-salary terms

“Pleasant persistence is a kind of emotional anchoring that creates empathy with the boss and builds the right psychological environment for constructive discussion. And the more you talk about non-salary terms, the more likely you are to hear the full range of their options.”

    • Salary terms without success terms is Russian roulette

As part of negotiations for a salary increase, put yourself on the line by indexing the increase to your success (the point will be further developed by Voss and Raz). Spark their interest in your success and gain an unofficial mentor.

“…sell yourself, and your success, as a way they can validate their own intelligence and broadcast it to the rest of the company. Make sure they know you’ll act as a flesh-and-blood argument for their importance.”

    • Ask: “What does it take to be successful here?”

The goal is the same as in the previous point. This specific question reinforces the idea of having a mentor inside the company, one that will dispense the necessary advice for you to succeed.

Key lessons

“We are emotional, irrational beasts who are emotional and irrational in predictable, pattern filled ways. Using that knowledge is only, well, rational.”

To conclude this chapter of Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz highlight the importance of underlying elements, and the power of the word “fair.

Finally, extreme anchoring can change the course of a negotiation. Using a price range can reduce aggression and can be a means to insinuate the price you want (setting it as the lower end of the range).

Chapter 7 – Create the illusion of control

To begin this chapter, Chris Voss tells the story of negotiations that took a disastrous turn. It was once again the work of the group Abou Sayyaf. This time they had taken twenty people hostage. The situation was unfavourable from the start, with a threat of violence hanging over everything. After a crisis lasting one year, the results were catastrophic, and Chris Voss had to question everything about his negotiating technique.

Do not try to negotiate in a firefight

With hindsight, Voss admits that all the elements surrounding this situation meant that negotiations were doomed to fail: an atmosphere of violence, several intermediaries… All of this created an “atmosphere of confrontation, distrust, and lies” which made negotiations difficult.

There is always a team on the other side

This subsection looks at the weight of the team surrounding your counterpart within the framework of negotiations.

“If your negotiation efforts do not reach past your counterpart and into the team behind him, then you’ve got a “hope”-based deal—and hope is not a strategy.”

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz recommend being wary if there is a change of counterpart – it can be a sign that things are getting tough – and explain that too many different counterparts will end in failed negotiations.

Avoid a showdown

By looking into the file, Chris Voss discovered that parallel negotiations had already taken place. The FBI had forbidden itself from making certain demands (such as communicating directly with the hostages) out of fear of having to hand something over in return, repay the debt, in accordance with the principle of reciprocity.

Suspend unbelief

From the story of a dealer’s girlfriend who was kidnapped by another dealer, the authors of Never Split the Difference demonstrate the power of calibrated questions in the sense that they ask the other party to think about how to fix your problem. The key is the “how” to maintain the other party’s sense of being in control.

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz make use of the concept of unbelief developed by Kevin Dutton; according to which “unbelief is active resistance to what the other side is saying.

“…if you can get the other side to drop their unbelief; you can slowly work them to your point of view on the back of their energy. […] You do not directly persuade them to see your ideas. Instead, you ride them to your ideas.”

Calibrate your questions

Using calibrated questions is particularly useful in getting what you want. They allow you to make a request without introducing any form of aggression.

“The real beauty of calibrated questions is the fact that they offer no target for attack like statements do. [They] have the power to educate your counterpart on what the problem is rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is. “

A calibrated question is therefore an open question, beginning with who, what, how or why. It invites a precise answer, one that is detailed and thought-out.

The implication of any well-designed calibrated question is that you want what the other guy wants but you need his intelligence to overcome the problem.”

How not to get paid

This ironic sub-header highlights the importance of self-control in any kind of negotiating situation. Ruling your emotions is crucial to getting what you want. Being impulsive is detrimental to any discussion. Also, by responding defensively, you act according to what is known as the “hostage mentality”.

Key lessons

The person who controls the conversation is the person listening. If they use active listening and all the other techniques revealed in the book; they can point the negotiations towards their particular goal.

“Aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiation.”

Chapter 8 – Guarantee execution

This chapter of the book Never Split the Difference begins with a description of the situation during a hostage situation in a Louisiana prison. It turned out that the kidnappers’ biggest fear was that they would be beaten up if they turned themselves in. To reassure them, the negotiators set up a strategy to ensure their safety. To demonstrate it, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz highlight the role of the negotiator: He is not just there to find an agreement, but to apply it.

“Yes” is nothing without “How”

As previously mentioned in Never Split the Difference, calibrated questions beginning with “how” are decisive if you are in negotiations. They can offer you information and details, buy you time and most of all; move the situation forward the way you want it to go.

The trick to “How” questions is that, correctly used, they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution—your solution.”

Also, “how” can detail the agreement, while giving your counterpart the sensation of control. Finally, “how”, once it is expressed, should lead you to the “that’s right” you are looking for.

Influencing those behind the table

In negotiations, it is crucial to analyse all your counterparts, even the ones who are not centre stage. Mentioning them and thinking in terms of the collective (or “committee”) allows you to include all the players: they will feel recognised and understood despite their second billing.

Spotting liars, dealing with jerks, and charming everyone else

Here, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz talk about the different forms of communication to find out who you are dealing with, and to disarm your counterpart. Negotiating is the use of verbal and paraverbal communication (what you say and how you say it) and non-verbal communication.

The 7-38-55 per cent rule

Based on the same idea, Albert Mehrabian created the 7-38-55 per cent rule.

“Only 7 per cent of a message is based on the words while 38 per cent comes from the tone of voice and 55 per cent from the speaker’s body language and face.”

Remembering this can help you to understand the power of behaviour and intonation during negotiations. These tools also offer you a better vision of the other person: by taking these elements into account; it is easier to highlight what is incoherent and what needs to be rephrased using labelling.

The rule of three

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz once again mention that there are three kinds of “yes”; and go on to explain that the rule of three will get you a genuine, committed “yes”. The goal is to get the other person to agree to commit or accept your offer three times. To avoid sounding like a broken record, you can use a number of strategies: the summary, labelling or calibrated questions.

The Pinocchio effect

To weed out the liars, the authors of Never Split the Difference advise focussing on the syntax of your counterpart’s sentences. If they are complex sentences or use the third person singular a lot, watch out!

Pay attention to their usage of pronouns

The use of pronouns is crucial to understanding the position of your counterpart in negotiations. The more they use the word “I”, the less their position is important. On the other hand, “I” means taking responsibility and immediate decision-making, which is why few smart negotiators use it.

The Chris discount

Chris Voss recommends keeping the conversation informal, making it more personal by introducing yourself. This can help achieve better results during negotiations.

How to get your counterparts to bid against themselves

With clever use of calibrated questions, it is possible to make a series of refusals without explicitly saying “no”. This will lead your counterpart to make some adjustments to his offer.

“These responses will sound so much like counterbids that your counterparts will often keep bidding against themselves.”

Key lessons

Ask “how”, know “how” and define “how”: this is all part of the weaponry of the effective negotiator. Without them, he will be disarmed. ”

Chapter 9 – Bargain hard

What is your type?

There are three major types of negotiator:

    • Analyst: methodical, applied, prepared.
    • Accommodator: friendly, distracted, talkative.
    • Assertive: fiery, forthright, aggressive.

You need to know and recognise the three different types to find out your counterpart’s strengths and weaknesses. This involves overcoming the “I am normal” paradox.

“Thinking you’re normal is one of the most damaging assumptions in negotiations. With it, we unconsciously project our own style on the other side.”

Taking a punch

According to Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, to avoid giving in to bargaining pressure; it can be appropriate to use calibrated questions (they avoid the compromise trap). Alternatively, you can use an extreme anchor in relation to the non-monetary part of the negotiations (details of the agreement for example).

Punching back 

    • Real anger, threats without anger, and strategic umbrage

Anger can be a decisive emotion during negotiations as it demonstrates how involved you are in the conversation. However, it can also be dangerous in its consequences on the other person, in a relationship of trust.

“Threats delivered without anger but with “poise”—that is, confidence and self-control—are great tools. Saying, “I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me,” with poise, works.”

    • “Why” questions

Although rarely advised by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz as a calibrated question, the question “Why” can sometimes “employ the defensiveness the question triggers to get your counterpart to defend your position.”

    • “I” messages

Using “I” changes perceptions and forces a moment in which to adapt to the new situation. It can set limits, in particular, to place a framework or deadline for the negotiation in progress.

    • No neediness – having the ready-to-walk mindset

One of the key points in Never Split the Difference is to refuse to compromise. You must always keep in mind that you have the power to say “no”. Otherwise you become the hostage.

“No deal is better than a bad deal.”

The Ackerman model 

Ackerman proposes a six-step model of offers and counter offers, which is effectively negotiating in stages:

    • Set your target price (your objective).
    • Set your first offer at 65 % of your target price.
    • Calculate three raises in decreasing increments (up to 85, 95 and 100 %).
    • Demonstrate empathy and say “no” in different ways so that the other party makes a better offer.
    • When calculating the final amount, use exact figures, not round figures.
    • For your final offer, add a non-monetary element (which they don’t want) to show that you have reached your limit.

Negotiating a rent cut after receiving notice of an increase 

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz give the example of a student who successfully negotiates a rent reduction using the Ackerman bargaining method: labelling, calibration and exact figures.

Key lessons

“Top negotiators know that conflict is often the path to great deals. […] Conflict brings out truth, creativity, and resolution.”

At this stage, the authors of Never Split the Difference highlight the need to prepare. You have to be able to define the other person’s negotiating style and above all have a plan based on the Ackerman model to reach the goal you have set yourself.

Chapter 10 – Find the black swan

To begin the final chapter, Chris Voss tells the story of a killing followed by a hostage situation in the State of New York. The event marked a change in how this type of situation was handled with the discovery of “black swans”, “those hidden and unexpected pieces of information—those unknown unknowns—whose unearthing has game-changing effects on a negotiation dynamic.”

Finding leverage in the predictable unpredictable 

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz go on to explain the origin of the metaphor. Everyone knows that there are white swans, but finding a black swan makes the “impossible or unthinkable” real.

    • There are three types of information in every negotiation:
      • The known knownswhat we know.
      • The unknown knownsprobabilities that we know exist.
      • The unknown unknownsthe famous black swans.

Uncovering unknown unknowns 

“We must let what we know—our known knowns—guide us but not blind us to what we do not know; we must remain flexible and adaptable to any situation.”

This vision implies total flexibility and special attention paid to the motivations of the other party. According to Chris Voss, each party has three black swans that can change the course of the negotiation. That is why taking an interest in what you do not know is decisive. Question the verbal and non-verbal signs and most importantly, label them. In this way, your counterpart will deliver crucial information.

“Most people expect that Black Swans are highly proprietary or closely guarded information, when in fact the information may seem completely innocuous. […] Your counterpart always has pieces of information whose value they do not understand.”

The three types of leverage 

“One way to understand leverage is as a fluid that sloshes between the parties.”

    • Positive leverage your ability as a negotiator to provide—or withhold—things that your counterpart wants.  He wants or needs something, and you have it.
    • Negative leverage based on loss aversion and threats, it is a negotiator’s ability to make his counterpart suffer. It plays on their fears or threatens their reputation.
    • Normative leverage using the other party’s norms and standards to advance your position.

Know their religion 

To find out what your counterpart’s black swans might be; you have to find out their world view, what guides their existence.

“By positioning your demands within the world view your counterpart uses to make decisions; you show them respect and that gets you attention and results.”

Perceiving the black swans show deep understanding of the other person and is also a form of respect. They are heard and understood within the context of their belief system.

“The other guy’s “religion” is what the market, the experts, God, or society—whatever matters to him—has determined to be fair and just.”

The similarity principle 

It has been established that a better relationship of trust exists between people who are similar. This closeness or similarity is often mobilised to justify mutual and unspoken understanding.

The power of hopes and dreams 

A shared quest for fulfilment and success exists. Based on this principle, figuring out the other person’s dreams and encouraging them in this direction can help ensure that they will follow you moving forward.

Religion as a reason

Chris Voss and Tahl Raz invite us to take every form of justification into account. These reasons can contain additional information, which is often merely implied, about the situation.

It’s not crazy, it’s a clue 

The authors of Never Split the Difference tackle the bias that leads us to believe that other people are crazy. Understanding the other person “is the best way to discover the other side’s vulnerabilities and wants and thereby gain influence.” 

Several elements come into play in the phenomenon of rejecting the other party. Poor information that leads to misunderstanding, a form of constraint that makes the counterpart’s behaviour irrational, hidden or divergent interests, etc.

To grasp all of the issues, envisaging a meeting can be worthwhile. It allows you to confirm or debunk your research while revealing new information through the different ways your counterpart communicates. To do this, do not neglect the unguarded moments during which you can observe a number of significant elements.

When it doesn’t make sense, there’s cents

Black swans are “are anything that you don’t know that changes things.”

Look for the underlying constraints, and therefore the black swan, and you can gain an advantage when you have to negotiate. The additional information will give you a considerable advantage.

Overcoming fear and learning to get what you want out of life 

To end this chapter, Chris Voss and Tahl Raz return to the general concept of the book Never Split the Difference. Compromises are very common because they avoid conflict. In general we are not scared of the other person, we are scared of conflict.

“Our emphasis throughout the book is that the adversary is the situation and that the person that you appear to be in conflict with is actually your partner.”

This vision of negotiation as a collaborative act reduces its negative aspect.

Key lessons 

To end the last chapter of the book Never Split the Difference; the authors remind us of the potential of what you do not know. Once again, they invite us to spot the black swans as powerful means of leverage in any negotiation.

The final part of Never split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl

There are three key messages: understand human psychology, refuse to compromise and approach conflict with empathy.

The strategies of negotiators who only rely on logic and reason are out-dated as far as Chris Voss is concerned. In his view, negotiation must be approached as a process of discovery in which the human dimension is fundamental. His approach asks us to focus all our attention on the other party. Chris Voss and Tahl Raz recommended emotional and communication processes that aim to establish a relationship of trust. For example, this involves active listening; tactical empathy (with mirroring and labelling techniques), seeking out “no”; calibrated questions, the Ackerman model, etc…

Finally, the book Never Split the Difference is built around three key messages in terms of negotiation. They are:

  • Always seek to understand human psychology;
  • Avoid compromises that lead to an unsatisfactory solution for everyone;
  • Accept conflict and approach it with empathy.

Pragmatic and fascinating content that everyone can understand

The concepts of negotiation presented in Never Split the Difference are illustrated by real situations experienced by Chris Voss as a former FBI negotiator. His incredible stories and anecdotes offer the reader a number of benefits. They:

  • Give concrete examples that speak to us as readers. When seen in a real life situation, the concepts are easy to understand and become accessible.
  • Give a very pragmatic dimension to the theoretical content. They are told using the American style and angle of the author and combine practical exercises.
  • This adds a storytelling aspect to the book, making the reading experience dynamic and enthralling.

Although taught through situations that are specific to the FBI – hostage and kidnapping situations – the knowledge acquired in this book applies to every kind of negotiation. In life, we all need to negotiate: to buy or sell, for a promotion, a salary increase, to get a bank loan, with our children and teenagers, etc. Never Split the Difference is a manual I would recommend to learn how to come out of all of these everyday negotiations a winner.

Strong points:

  • Lots of stories from Chris Voss’s professional career: putting things in context helps us to understand.
  • Exercises to apply every day: to ask for a raise, buy a car, etc.
  • Key lessons: at the end of each chapter, there is a short summary of the important points.
  • The annex dedicated to preparing to negotiate: a summary of the book to help you put your own negotiating guide together.

Weak point:

  • The content of the chapters is asymmetric: a capsule of the information and concepts is given at the start of the book and repeated and expanded upon throughout the chapters.

My rating : Never split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz Never split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz Never split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl RazNever split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl RazNever split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl RazNever split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl RazNever split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl RazNever split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl RazNever split the difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

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