Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It

Written By James King

6 min read

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

Never Split The Difference is an entertaining and practical insight into the art of negotiation based on the experiences of former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss who has since put his skills to work in the world of business.

Summary of main ideas

Never Split The Difference is an entertaining and practical insight into the art of negotiation based on the experiences of former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss who has since put his skills to work in the world of business.

Going against some of accepted best practices of negotiation that form the basis of other books about negotiation - such as Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher - Voss puts great importance on empathising with the person on the other side of a negotiation.

In doing so, he lays out the tactics that have served him so well throughout his career, providing examples and explanations along the way. These include concepts such as:

Active Listening: Listening provides an inexpensive way of granting a concession to the other party, demonstrating that you are taking their needs seriously and genuinely want to understand their perspective. It requires 100% focus on what the other person is saying and the discipline to repress any thoughts related to your existing assumptions and worldview.

As well as building trust, active listening helps to build a sense of the other person’s perspective, which provides a negotiation advantage.

Mirroring: Voss describes mirroring as a “magical technique” that facilitates bonding with the other person. By repeating somebody’s words back to them you can harness the power of similarity while gently inducing them to elaborate and provide more information, which is perhaps the most crucial aspect of any negotiation.

Labeling: Giving someone’s emotion a name reduces the negativity of that emotion or reinforces the positivity. Using phrases such as “it seems like you...” or “it looks like you...” demonstrates that you understand and care about the other person’s feelings. By acknowledging these emotions, you remove their explosive power and open a channel to address them.

Leveraging ‘no’: Voss argues that getting a ‘no’ out of the other person early on in a negotiation is crucial because it allows him or her to feel a sense of control within the situation. It is also a much more trustworthy answer than ‘yes’, which will often not be truthful. ‘No’ provides a platform from which to start the real negotiation by asking solution-based questions such as “How do we move forward from here?”

Getting to ‘that’s right’: When there is an impasse (or the risk of one) in a negotiation, getting the other person to say “that’s right” is key to moving things along. In Voss’ own words: “That's right is what we say when we feel completely heard, and there's a chemical change that takes place in our brain — it is a subtle epiphany. And when you feel an epiphany, you feel better, you just don't know where it came from.”

The best way of leading the other person in the negotiation to a “that’s right” is to summarise their arguments and feelings (labels!) so well that “that’s right” becomes the only logical response.

Finding the Black Swan: Black swans are hidden pieces of information with the power to dramatically change the course of a negotiation, because they are “leverage multipliers.” Voss argues that great negotiators are skilled at uncovering this black swan if it exists. It requires a deep level of empathy to connect with your counterpart to understand their worldview and emotions. This is where the black swan is most likely to be found.

The book is full of very specific tactics and insights that the reader can quickly begin to apply in their own life. Voss also introduces concepts such as:

  • The three types of voice tone a negotiator should adopt

    • The late night FM dj voice
    • The positive/playful voice
    • The direct or assertive voice
  • The three types of leverage

    • Positive
    • Negative
    • Normative
  • The three kinds of yes

    • Counterfeit
    • Confirmation
    • Commitment

But the book’s overarching takeaway is quite simple. Deploy deep empathy to build trust and gain valuable information to help you achieve the best possible outcome in a negotiation.

How this book can help you

You don’t need to work in hostage negotiation to get a lot of value from Never Split the Difference. The tactics and examples used by Voss are so specific and well-explained that anyone who routinely finds themselves in some kind of negotiation with colleagues, customers, relatives or friends (so everyone, really) can begin applying them to real life situations

For sure, people facing typical negotiation scenarios such as asking for a raise will gain a lot from this book. It breaks down situations that are often intimidating and awkward and provides proven tools for getting an edge (especially when the person on the other side of the table hasn’t been trained in negotiation skills!).

But it’s also a valuable toolkit for dealing with non-confrontational contexts as well. Learning how to listen actively will help anyone build better relationships and trying to understand the emotions and perspectives of other people is a crucial skill that will lead to success not only in business but also in life.

Some good further reading/watching/listening

Watch Chris Voss discussing Never Split the Difference in his talk at Google.

Where to get it

Get Never Split the Difference on Amazon.

Get Never Split the Difference as an audiobook.

About the authors

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator who, since leaving law enforcement, has applied his extensive knowledge and experience of resolving high-stakes negotiation situations to the world of business. He founded The Black Swan Group Ltd and has taught business negotiation at prestigious universities including Harvard and Georgetown.

Tahl Raz is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author who has written about business, technology and the social sciences for a wide range of publications. He is the co-author of Never Eat Alone.

Published by

Harper Business

Publication Date

May 17, 2016

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