Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz
4 min read

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz

Book notes on negotiating as if your life depended on it
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz

Human nature rules apply to all people, doesn't matter if you're a terrorist or a business man. 'Never Split the Difference' is a guide to negotiation by non-other than a former FBI negotiator.

But this isn't just advice for hostage situations and bank robberies, it's packed full of useful everyday skills.

We are probably in 3-7 negotiations every day, and it’s an important skill that we should all work on. There’s a stereotype of what you have to be to ‘win’ a negotiation: being the biggest jerk in the room, pushing and bullying people to win.

But that’s not the case: it's about great collaboration.

The adversary is the situation and the person across the table is a counterpart who is also tackling a part of the same problem. You work together to find an agreeable solution. You only need to find what's possible and what partner wants to make a deal happen.


Use this to tease out information: “the art of letting the other side have your way”.

Use the last 1-3 words of what the other person says. They feel listened to and connect in their head.

It’s a rapport building process – and people love it.

"I love being at this yoga retreat", "the yoga retreat?", " yeah the food is great", "the food is great?" - genuine curiosity is compelling and powerful.

When used is doesn't feel like fighting - it makes them give more context. Use a positive tone of voice and genuine curiosity.

But it’s also important to go silent - let your skill sink in and give them time to respond.


Put a label on emotions to reduce the impact: ‘it sounds like you’re…’, ‘it looks like you’re…’, ‘it feels like you’re…’.

"It seems like you're upset about this": your brain then thinks 'am i upset?' and this triggers contemplation. That very act deactivates a lot of the negative.

Wrong way: 'what I'm hearing'. The problem is you've dropped in the 'I' - prioritizing your own perspective

Give time for your labels to sink in - shut up

Label more than once: labels are cumulative. No response means you're on the right track, you just need more. Just keep going.

“Sounds like there's more than meets the eye, sounds like there's some feelings I haven't quite touched yet?”

Reinforce positive emotions: this has the opposite effect. Using this technique actually reinforces the positive emotion.

“Thanks for being generous with your time”:  when you're on hold, say that, and their tone changes instantly because the people on the phone think they are being generous.

Mirroring following a label can be very effective.

Accusation audit: get in early with labelling what they might feel: "You might think I'm being terrible."


Tone of voice is critical.

Mirror neurons: how I am will mirror onto you, i.e. using a late-night DJ voice to calm you. This hits the mirror neurons – if you’re calm and smile that will rub off on the other person.

Playful voice/accomodators voice: use 80% of the time. It's the smiling voice.

Analyst voice: slow, deliberate. Feels immovable. But it lacks warmth.

Late night FM DJ: when you need to calm someone.


Using plural pronouns seems like they have no power (we, they, us). But actually they do: we see it a lot on business world in powerful negotiators. Business people using ‘i, me and my’ are showing weakness, aren’t so powerful.

Body language and speech patterns

7/38/55 rule: these are three components of communications and how much information you garner from: content, tonality and body language.

People who aren’t center of a conversation will likely show real body language (i.e. bosses assistant: watch them to get truthful body language when not part of focus).

The Pinocchio Effect: using more words than neccesasry to give you an answer. More words they use the more likely they are lying.

Creating the illusion of control

Ask how and what questions (why sounds like accusing): this is what makes people feel in control.

Force empathy: ask 'how am I supposed to do that?' - make them think about your position. 'How do I know they are alive?'... 'How do we make sure people like this?'...

If we ask we tend to owe: we don't want to trigger reciprocity inadvertently. Do it when you can offer something.

Accusation audit

Make a list of what the opposition could use against you - all the worst things.Address them so you're ready to respond.

Here’s an example of how to frame it:

“It seems like you're not getting all the info you want, probably feels like we're holding back and not being honest with you.”

Convey you're being attentive, calling it straight and taking responsibility.

The value of 'no'

There’s are different yes’s and no’s.

Commitment 'yes': “I will do this, I agree”. This will be curt and concise.

Counterfit 'yes': when I start to feel trapped, I don't trust you. I feel like you're trying ot trap me. Not short, succinct.

Use no to get an answer: People feel safe and protected when they say no. They maybe don’t like hearing it, but when say it it is solid.

“Is this a crazy idea?” gives good information, and the additional information is most important. Since you are safe and protected saying no, you have no fear talking about problems.

If you say yes and then offer more information, you feel that means more commitment. Saying no with additional info means no fear, and more accurate information.

Example: “Are you against buying three tickets now?”. Answer: “No, go for it”.

Bending reality

Loss aversion/fear of loss completely bends people's sense of reality. You need to find out how people feel like they are losing if they don't make the deal

Appeal to a sense of fairness: game where have to split found money. People will destroy deals and walk away with nothing if it feels unfair. They might take a bad deal even, if they feel they were treated fairly.

How to deal with 'fair': “it's a fair offer” - subtly saying you're being unfair. Respond by being proactive: “If I've been unfair let me know”.


The Ackerman System: start at 65% of the actual target and plan on three raises (20%, 10%, 5%).

i.e. You won't like it - they'll ask. Target is $100, so offer $65. Then say you're really sorry. It's horrible I know. Then start climbing up towards $100.

Enjoying these posts? Subscribe for more