Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss – Here are my Seven Lessons and Takeaways

chris-voss-featWhat is negotiation? — The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want. …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. …Negotiation as you’ll learn it here is nothing more than communication with results.
Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference


Somebody has something you want.  You have to give up something to get what they have.  (Money; time; something else).  All of life is some kind of negotiation.

Chris Voss knows a thing or two about negotiation success.  He was an international hostage negotiator for the FBI. He learned to negotiate in the midst of life and death situations. Literally, human lives were on the line

Then he “beat” all sorts of MBA students from a top university in every single negotiating exercise.

And he has put his insights, and his hard lessons learned — his lessons about what works — in his terrific book  Never Split the Difference:  Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It (written with Tahl Raz).  I presented my synopsis of this book at the August First Friday Book Synopsis.

What is the point of this book?  I think it is this: Don’t compromise. Never split the difference. Instead, actually negotiate.

I always ask, in my synopsis, Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – The author learned how to negotiate in the real world of FBI negotiating; in true, life-or-death situations.  His wisdom comes from real-world negotiating challenges..
#2 – What we “knew” about negotiating success has been updated. This book brings the latest findings about what works in negotiating.
#3 – There is a good chance that you are doing it wrong.  This book will help you know how to do it right.

In my synopsis handouts, I always include the “best of” my selected highlights from my reading of the book.  Here are a few I emphasized in my synopsis:

It all 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.
Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from—and with—other people. So it’s useful—crucial, even—to know how to engage in that conflict to get what you want without inflicting damage.
In this world, you get what you ask for; you just have to ask correctly.
Just remember, to successfully negotiate it is critical to prepare.
Really smart people often have trouble being negotiators—they’re so smart they think they don’t have anything to discover.
Most people approach a negotiation so preoccupied by the arguments that support their position that they are unable to listen attentively.
…We can process only about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment.
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.
Wants are easy to talk about, representing the aspiration of getting our way, and sustaining any illusion of control we have as we begin to negotiate; needs imply survival, the very minimum required to make us act, and so make us vulnerable.
There are actually three kinds of “Yes”: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment.
Saying “No” gives the speaker the feeling of safety, security, and control.
Don’t start with “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” Instead ask, “Is now a bad time to talk?” Either you get “Yes, it is a bad time” followed by a good time or a request to go away, or you get “No, it’s not” and total focus.
I’m here to call bullshit on compromise right now. We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face. …Distilled to its essence, we compromise to be safe.
“Why” is always an accusation, in any language.
Do not let your mind wander. Remain focused.


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Here are a few points from the book worth noting:

  • Reminder: all persuasion is self-persuasion! — Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. — He is a fan of using a “nudge.” – Lots and lots of nudges.
  • THE TIP of the book:  EMAIL MAGIC: HOW NEVER TO BE IGNORED AGAIN — You provoke a “No” with this one-sentence email. Have you given up on this project? — Just as important, it makes the implicit threat that you will walk away on your own terms. 
  • The process of successful negotiation:
  • The whole concept, which you’ll learn as the centerpiece of this book, is called Tactical Empathy. –first, and second, and on and on, you listen! — empathy is “the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart, and the vocalization of that recognition.”
  • Active LIstening techniques:
  • Mirroring — Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. We copy each other to comfort each other. — For the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said.
  • Silences
  • the Late-Night FM DJ Voice (…deep, soft, slow, and reassuring. Downward inflection; a statement. And calm and reassuring).
  • SO: — 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. (Then, Labeling; label the feelings) 5. Repeat.

And do not miss this:  learn to use your late night DJ voice.  (You’ll almost have to order my synopsis, with the audio from my presentation, for this…).


Here are my seven lessons and takeaways from the book:

#1 – Remember, that other person is a person; a human being. (Help them get what they need).
#2 – Think “range” – range will likely get you closer to what you desire.
#3 – Use odd numbers — they seem to sound precise, and thus more carefully thought out – and, thus, they tend to work better.
#4 – Listen. Learn to listen much better. Then, listen much better.
#5 – Listen with empathy. Thus, build your empathy muscles.
#6 – What you say matters. Learn the techniques, and follow them.
#7 – Never split the difference!

Whether you are in sales (and…you are), or marketing, or management, you are always in the midst of an ongoing, and an upcoming, negotiation. This is a book that will help you think through the challenges of negotiating; and a book to teach you some needed, terrific negotiating skills.  It is a good thing to get better at this!


You will be able to purchase my synopsis of this book soon, with the audio recording of my presentation along with my full, multi-page comprehensive synopsis handout, from this web site.  Click here for the newest additions.

One thought on “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss – Here are my Seven Lessons and Takeaways

  1. abdelazeezsobh

    <a href="”>Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It A former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new proven approach in the field for high-risk negotiations, whether in the boardroom or at home.


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