Never split the difference book summary

6 minute read

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In this book, we can learn about negotiation techniques that can be used in our daily lives. The author of this book Chris Voss spent 24 years working for the FBI, culminating in him becoming the bureau’s lead international hostage negotiator.

Chapter 1

The new rules

  • To successfully negotiate it’s critical to prepare.
  • Negotiation is the heart of collaboration. It is what makes conflict potentially meaningful and productive for all parties.
  • In this world you get what you ask for; you just have to ask correctly. So claim your prerogative to ask for what you think is right.
  • The work of a good negotiator is emotional intelligence on steroids.

Chapter 2

Be a mirror

  • Mirroring: repeat the words that the counterpart is using.
  • A good negotiator aims to use her skills to reveal the surprises she is certain to find.
  • Don’t commit to assumptions, view them as hypotheses and use negotiation to test them rigorously.
  • Negotiation is not an act of battle, it’s a process discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.
  • The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.
  • Make your sole and all-encompassing focus on the other person and what they have to say.
  • Slow. It. Down. Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we are too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they are not being heard.
  • Put a smile on your face. When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve. Positivity creates mental agility in both you and your counterpart. The positive/playful voice should be your default voice.
  • The direct or assertive voice. Use it rarely, it will cause problems and generate pushback. Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last 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.

Chapter 3

Don’t feel their pain, label it.

  • Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power. The faster you interrupt the action in your counterpart’s amygdala, the part of the brain that generates fear, the faster you can generate feelings of safety, well-being, and trust.
  • List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. Performing an accusation audit in advance prepares you to head off negative dynamics before they take root.
  • Remember that you are dealing with a person that wants to be understood and appreciated. Use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics.

Chapter 4

Beware yes, master no

  • Break the habit of attempting to get people to say “yes”. Being pushed for yes makes people defensive. No is not a failure. In reality, often means “Wait” or “I’m not comfortable with that”. Learn how to hear it calmly. It’s not the negotiation, but the beginning.
  • Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure and in control, so trigger it. By saying what they don’t want, your counterpart defines their space and gains the confidence and comfort to listen to you. I.e: Is now a bad time to talk? is always better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
  • Persuasion it’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their idea. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals.
  • If a business partner is ignoring you, contact them with a clear and concise “No”-oriented question that suggests that you are ready to walk away. “Have you given up this project” works wonders.
  • To avoid being ignored look for No.
  • Look for No answers rather than easy Yes.

Chapter 5

Trigger the two words

  • Trigger the two words that immediately transform any negotiation.
  • Look for that’s right, is the better response that you can get.
  • In hostage negotiations, we never tried to get to “yes” as an endpoint. We knew that yes is nothing without “how”.
  • That’s right often leads to the best outcomes.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It’s the most active thing you can do.

Chapter 6

Bend their reality

  • All negotiations are defined by a network of subterranean desires and needs.
  • Approaching deadlines entice people to rush the negotiating process and do impulsive things.
  • Fair is an emotional term people usually exploit to put the other side on the defensive and gain concessions.
  • Before making an offer, anchor them by saying how bad it will be. Set an extreme anchor to make your real offer seem reasonable, or use a range to seem less aggressive.
  • People take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart sees that there’s something to lose by inaction.
  • One crucial aspect of any negotiation is to figure out how your adversary arrived at this position.
  • Try to look for the real motivations that the other part wants.

Chapter 7

Create the illusion of control

  • Don’t try to force your opponent to admit that you are right. Aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiation.
  • Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or tiny pieces of information.
  • Ask calibrated questions that start with the words “How” or “What”.
  • Don’t ask questions that start with “Why” unless you want your counterpart to defend a goal. “Why is always an accusation, in any language”.
  • Calibrate your questions to point your counterpart toward solving your problem.
  • When you are attacked in a negotiation, pause and avoid angry emotional reactions. Instead, ask your counterpart a calibrated question.
  • In salary negotiations don’t be the first to talk. You can use a range.

Chapter 8

Guarantee execution

  • Yes is nothing without “how”
  • Asking “How” keeps your counterparts engaged but off-balance. Answering the questions will give them the illusion of control.
  • How can I do that is a gentile version of ‘No’.
  • Always identify the motivations of the players behind the table.
  • Only 7 percent of a message is based on the words while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker’s body language and face.
  • Use calibrated questions, summaries, and labels to get your counterpart to reaffirm their agreement at least three times.
  • Picking a lot of “we”, “them”, “they” means you are dealing with a savvy decision-maker.
  • Humor and humanity are the best ways to break the ice and remove roadblocks.

Chapter 9

Bargain hard

  • Top negotiators know, that conflict is often the path to great deals. Conflict brings truth, creativity, and resolution.
  • Identify your counterpart negotiator style (Accommodator, Assertive, or Analyst)
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. You fall to your highest level of preparation.
  • Set boundaries and learn to take a punch or punch back without anger. The guy across the table is not the problem; the situation is.
  • Prepare an Ackerman plan.

Chapter 10

Find the black swan - those powerful unknown unknowns.

What we don’t know can kill us or our deals. Techniques for flushing out the Black Swans.

  • Let what you know to guide you but not blind you.
  • Black swans are leverage multipliers. They can be positive, negative, or normative.
  • Work to understand the other side’s “religion”.
  • Review everything you hear from your counterpart. Use backup listeners.
  • Exploit the similarity principle. People are more apt to concede to someone they share a cultural similarity.
  • When someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t.
  • Get face time with your counterpart. Ten minutes of face time often reveals more than days of research. Pay special attention to your counterpart’s verbal and non-verbal communication at unguarded moments.


This is a great book that explains techniques to be able to negotiate with people and interact using empathy. In this book there are some powerful ideas that seem contrary to popular opinion but used well can give you great results. Remember that negotiation is nothing more than communication with results.

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