Never Split the Difference

In Never Split the Difference, former FBI negotiator Chris Voss breaks down his approach to negotiation.

Key Lessons from Never Split the Difference

Be a Mirror

"[Effective negotiation] starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there. By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing."

Mirroring is one of the most effective ways to build trust, gather information, and make your negotiation opponent feel understood.

Ths basics of mirroring are simple: Repeat the last few critical words of what someone has just said. Mirroring is best done with a calm and confident voice, which Voss refers to as "the late-night FM DJ voice" - the negotiator should be focused on verbal communication, not body language. This encourages the person being mirrored to elaborate.

Mirroring can seem awkward at first, and takes practice, but can eventually seem very natural. Voss claims that mirroring is the closest thing to a real world "Jedi mind trick."

Label Emotions

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

Empathy helps to understand why someone's actions make sense to them. Labeling is a simple way to show empathy because it acknowledges and validates emotion and shows you know how a person feels. Labeling also helps to build rapport.

Labeling is as simple as listening to someone, then naming the emotion behind it. For example, "it seems like you were really disappointed."

When labeling, avoid the word "I" and instead use the word "it": "It sounds like," "it seems like," "it looks like," rather than "I'm hearing that..." because "I" detracts from the emotions.

Labels are particularly useful when used to reinforce positive perceptions.

Start with "No"

Many who are versed in negotiation try to get the other party to say "yes" as much as possible, but Voss suggests starting with "no" because "'no' start's the negotiation." "Yes" is often counterfeit, an answer given as a way to end a conversation, whereas "no" is most often an attempt to resist change that can be overcome.

"No" can also be used to open up new options and ideas to intentionally mislabel someone's desires, so that they respond with "no". One of the best tactics from this book is the "email magic" tactic: If you're email is being ignored, send one last email asking "have you given up on this project?". This often elicits a "no" and can spur the other party to action.

Use and be Skeptical of Deadlines

Deadlines, even artificial ones, can push the other party to be more forthright and come forward with concessions more quickly. Which is exactly why a deadline posed by an opponent should not "trick you into believing that doing a deal now is more important than getting a good dea."

Very few deadlines are real, so be skeptical when faced with a deadline. Instead, use deadlines to drive the behavior you want from the other party.

Quotes from Never Split the Difference

  • "...no matter how we dress up our negotiations in mathematical theories, we are always an animal, always acting and reacting first and foremost from our deeply held but mostly invisible and inchoate fears, needs, perceptions, and desires." --Chris Voss
  • "List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can... to head off negative dynamics before they take root." --Chris Voss

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