Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Chris Voss is an expert negotiator, formerly heading up the FBI’s international kidnapping unit.  He now runs Black Swan Group, a negotiation training company.

His book, Never Split the Difference – Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, is hands down the best I have ever read on the topic of communication.  It lays out a road map to be used during negotiations and actionable steps to take at each junction.  And everything is a negotiation.

The key though is to practice these skills every day during your usual conversations.  That way you’ll be familiar enough to use them when the stakes are high.

Some key points:

  • Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions—information gathering and behavior influencing—and includes almost any interaction where each party wants something from the other side.
  • Tactical Empathy – the martial art of listening.
  • The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise) and get them feeling safe enough to talk and talk and talk some more about what they want.
  • Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding.  A “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one gets to a Jedi mind trick.

It’s just four simple steps:         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.

  • Instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators identify and influence them. They are able to precisely label emotions, those of others and especially their own.
  • Spot their feelings, turned them into words, and then very calmly and respectfully repeated their emotions back to them. In a negotiation, that’s called labeling.  Labeling an emotion—applying rational words to a fear—disrupts its raw intensity.
  • Labels can be phrased as statements or questions. The only difference is whether you end the sentence with a downward or upward inflection. But no matter how they end, labels almost always begin with roughly the same words: It seems like . . . It sounds like . . . It looks like . . .
  • The last rule of labeling is silence.

Summarize: A good summary is the combination of rearticulating the meaning of what is said plus the acknowledgment of the emotions underlying that meaning (paraphrasing + labeling = summary)

  • Imagine that the wife wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome.
  • Time is one of the most crucial variables in any negotiation. The simple passing of time and its sharper cousin, the deadline, are the screw that pressures every deal to a conclusion.
  • 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.

People fall into three broad categories. Some people are Accommodators; others—like me—are basically Assertive; and the rest are data-loving Analysts.

  • Experienced negotiators often lead with a ridiculous offer, an extreme anchor. And if you’re not prepared to handle it, you’ll lose your moorings and immediately go to your maximum.
  • You’re actually going to want the other guy to name a price first, because you want to see his hand. You’re going to welcome the extreme anchor.
  • Instead of naming a price, allude to an incredibly high number that someone else might charge.
  • No deal is better than a bad deal. If you feel you can’t say “No” then you’ve taken yourself hostage. Once you’re clear on what your bottom line is, you have to be willing to walk away. Never be needy for a deal.

This is just a taste of what is on offer in this book.  It is a must read for everyone who has to negotiate; whether that be a salary raise or a bedtime.  I encourage you to pick up a copy – Never Split the Difference by Chriss Voss – and sign up for his excellent newsletter (one of the few that I read) at



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