Never Split the Difference Summary and Review

by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz
  Has Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Have you ever tried to convince a car salesman to give you a discount, your partner to try out a new restaurant, or a potential client to sign a contract only to fail miserably? Not being able to convince others to do something is a very common problem for a lot of people. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot seem to make other people resonate with you. That is because your negotiating techniques are not right. And that’s exactly what Chris Voss and Tahl Raz discuss throughout their book Never Split the Difference. From our summary, you’ll learn a few negotiating tricks from Chriss Voss, who was a very successful kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. Here are the key ideas that we’ll discuss throughout our summary:
  • which emotional features make for very strong negotiating weapons;
  • what is the most effective voice when it comes to negotiating; and
  • how your life can be saved by labeling.

NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE CHAPTER #1: The process of negotiations has to do with rationality, rather than with the intellect, and it is present in every aspect of our lives.

People generally think that negotiating is a technique reserved for corporate board rooms and lawyers. However, humans negotiate on a daily basis. In other words, while negotiating is what salespeople do when trying to seal the deal, it is also something that happens at home with our kids and spouses. Think of it this way: negotiation is just the process of trying to convince others to do things our way. It is a type of communication or interaction that needs to lead to a specific outcome. Whenever we want something from someone or vice versa, negotiation takes place. Say you think you deserve a raise, but your boss doesn’t share that opinion. Or maybe you want to try a new restaurant with your partner but they are reluctant. OK, so now that you understand how common negotiation actually is, you might want to know what it takes to become a successful negotiator? Truth is, in order to become a successful negotiator, one needs more than just a keen intellect and an inclination towards logic and maths. That’s because we, humans, are not always persuaded by rationality. We don’t always like to accept things based on logic and reason alone. What makes things even more complicated is that we are not predictable creatures, as a lot of our actions are based on our irrational and spontaneous animal instincts. That’s precisely what Amos Tversky, economist, and Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, have found after years of intensive study. When it comes to negotiation, their findings can change our conventional thinking. Here’s how. Negotiation first became a fully defined field in the 1970s and it was mostly based on the idea that humans acted rationally to their own advantage. However, Kahneman and Tversky’s research uncovered the fact that we cannot escape something called cognitive bias, which makes us act unconsciously irrational. The specialists even went as far as to identify 150 unique types of biases. One such bias was named the framing effect and it stated that whenever we are faced with the same set of options, our choices will change depending on how each option is presented. Simply put, a successful negotiator must understand the complex nature of the human psyche. Read the next chapter to learn how to do just that.

NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE CHAPTER #2: A successful negotiator will start by getting information and building trust.

Before starting the negotiation process, a specialist will always gather as much information about their counterparts and the situation as possible. Generally, this stage of the process is extremely important as it brings a lot of new things to light and it prepares the negotiator for the next steps. For example, in a hostage-taking situation, the negotiator will not know what the terrorists want to achieve, whether they are armed, or whether they are sharing true or false information. Here is a real-life example of a similar situation that happened to the author in 1993. After a robbery that took place in a Manhattan bank resulted in the taking of three innocent hostages, the author was involved in the negotiation process. A security guard and two bank tellers were being used as bargaining chips. One of the robbers told the FBI that there were four of them when he was in fact acting alone. He did have some partners when the robbing began, but they were only after the ATM and when he started robbing the whole bank and taking hostages, they bailed. Looking back on the situation, it becomes obvious that the robber lied about not being alone in order to create some confusion and to buy him some time to escape. So, when it comes to negotiating, having as much information as possible is key and establishing an amicable connection with the counterpart is essential in order to obtain it. That’s why one of the golden rules of negotiation is talking to your counterparts a lot. As the conversation progresses, you’ll be able to learn more about their personality, motivation, needs, and goals. That being said, nobody will share this information with you unless they trust you, and that is why this amicable connection is essential. If you manage to create a connection with your counterparts, you’ll automatically build some trust in the process and getting useful information becomes much more likely. But how can a negotiator establish a good report with his counterparts?  Read the next chapter to find out.

NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE CHAPTER #3: Trust can be build by listening to your counterparts closely and by repeating what they are saying.

So, we have established that building trust is key, but how do you do that? The best strategy consists of engaging in what is known as active listening. This type of interaction focuses on showing empathy and convincing other people that you understand what they are going through. When you want to build trust, there are several techniques that can be helpful. A very effecting trust-building technique is known as mirroring and it consists of repeating what the other person is saying in an inquisitive tone. Just think of the previously mentioned bank robbery negotiation. The robber who took the hostages was insisting on getting a vehicle. He mentioned that his driver had fled and that he needs a car. When the author heard that the driver had fled, he mirrored the robber’s response by asking “Was your designated driver chased off?” In response, the robber felt the need to clarify things and said told the author that the driver wasn’t chased off, but that, along with other details that he managed to get through mirroring. These details were essential for the NYPD and the FBI in apprehending the driver who had fled. But why is mirroring so effective? Mainly because it makes the counterparts feel that the person on the other end is somehow similar to them. As humans, we are naturally drawn to people who seem similar. That’s owed to the fact that just like other animals, humans also like to belong to a group with similar traits. Giving someone a feeling of similarity and belonging builds trust, which is a very powerful tool in negotiation. To test the effectiveness of this strategy more scientifically, Richard Wiseman, a reputed psychologist, conducted an experiment in which customers would give orders to waiters. One group of waiters was required to use the mirroring strategy and the other group was asked to use positive reinforcement and say things like “great” and “no problem”. At the end of the day, the waiters who used the mirroring technique and repeated what the customers were saying received significantly higher tips and earned 70 percent more than the positive reinforcement group.

NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE CHAPTER #4: When it comes to negotiating, the tone of your voice is very important.

Have you ever been upset or angry with someone not because of what they said, but because of how they said it? Well, it makes perfect sense because the intonation of the human voice is a very powerful tool and it can also be used to negotiate successfully. For example, if your counterpart is becoming angry or upset, you can use a soft and deep voice to calm them down. The author has called this soothing voice the Late-Night FM DJ voice. By speaking slowly and in a reassuring way, the tone of your voice will have a visible effect on your counterparts. After all, it will calm them down, making them more open to sharing the information that you need. During the bank hostage-taking situation, the author was forced to take over the communication task from his colleague, Joe. Because this type of change was likely to make the robber angry or upset, the author used a calm, deep voice to let the robber know that Joe was out and he was in. The information was transmitted in such a calming and downward-inflecting manner the robber didn’t even flinch. That being said, certain situations might require a different tone, such as the positive/playful voice. This type of voice conveys that the speaker is empathetic and easygoing. This encouraging attitude puts things in a positive light. Additionally, in order to make your voice sound more natural, you should smile while speaking. Even if your smile is not visible to your counterpart, it will transpire from the tone of your voice. When a colleague of the authors was visiting Istanbul with his girlfriend, he was amazed by her ability to negotiate and cut deals with the local merchants. When he analyzed her behavior, he noticed that she always tried to get a better price and was using a positive, playful voice. Despite the merchant’s polished bargaining skills, they were still drawn in by her and would eventually give her a better deal. If you want to try this strategy yourself, you can do so whenever you’re at a flea market or a garage sale.

NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE CHAPTER #5: To have an advantage, always take your counterpart’s emotions into consideration.

Experienced psychotherapists can confirm that in order to make progress with a person, it is important to understand and tap into their emotions. The same concept applies to negotiation. Rather than ignoring the emotions of your counterpart, it’s much more effective to use your empathy to your advantage. However, being empathetic doesn’t necessarily indicate an agreement. It simply means that you are able to see your counterpart’s perspective. This strategy is known as tactical empathy and it consists of using the perspective that your counterpart has to your advantage in the negotiation process. Labeling is another effective technique and it simply consists of telling your counterpart that you acknowledge and understand his feelings, his motivation, and his position. By using labeling you can calm your counterpart and make him behave in a more rational way. In 2007, Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California, conducted an experiment during which he showed his participants images of people who expressed strong emotions. When they saw the images, the participants’ amygdala, the brain region responsible for fear, became activated. However, Lieberman asked the patients to describe the emotions they saw in the images, the area related to rational thinking was activated instead. When four prison inmates escaped in 1998 and were thought to be in possession of dangerous weapons, they hid in a Harlem apartment. The author was able to understand how they were feeling and he was able to label these feelings. He told them that the understood why they didn’t want to leave the apartment, that he knew they worried that if they came out of the apartment, they would be shot and that it’s perfectly normal to be scared and not to want to go back to prison. Six hours after the author spoke to the fugitives, they eventually surrendered and they told him that what he told them calmed them down. Luckily, the author’s labeling strategy worked and nobody was hurt. He simply used his empathy to understand and acknowledge the emotions of the fugitives and was able to convince them that surrendering was the best and safest option.

NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE CHAPTER #6: Don’t give in to the other party’s demands, don’t rush, and don’t compromise.

Have you ever been so eager to solve a conflict that the final result was not convenient for you? That is something you should avoid, and in order to be able to do so, you need to remember that making a compromise and accepting a bad deal is almost always a mistake. This action is known as splitting the difference, and it is something that must be avoided as much as possible. After all, every human, even your counterparts have needs and thoughts that they might not even be aware of themselves. When your counterpart is making a request, you can never know for sure if he actually wants it, so giving in and making a compromise might not always be an effective solution. Imagine that someone is holding a celebrity hostage and they are claiming that unless they receive one million dollars they will cut off her head. While kidnapper is claiming that he is after the money, they might actually try to make a statement. If that is true, giving him the money won’t necessarily mean that he will release the hostage. For the same reason, it’s vital to take your time, even when the other person is setting deadlines. Remember, your job is to get as much information as possible and to avoid making a rushed decision. Making decisions when pressured is a big mistake that must be avoided. Generally, when it comes to negotiating, most deadlines are random and quite flexible. Here is a perfect example of this: the wife of a Haitian police officer was abducted and the kidnappers were demanding money. But during the following weeks of negotiation, the author noticed an interesting pattern. The kidnappers would insist to get the money on workdays, and as the weekend would approach they would stop and lay low. That’s how he got to the conclusion that they had a partying habit, and that’s what they needed the money for. Once he understood this, the author also realized that the deadlines were flexible and that he could negotiate a much lower price with them. As with most negotiations, in order to see a successful outcome, information, patience, and time were of the essence.


What is the key message of Chris Voss and Tahl Raz’s Never Split the Difference? By using a few simple, but effective, techniques and by understanding where the counterparty is coming from, you can successfully negotiate your way through any difficult situation. Whether you are negotiating a raise with your boss, the bedtime with your children, or what restaurant to go to with your wife, the key is to stay calm and to use your empathy to establish trust with the other person. Valuable advice: Be ready to face extreme situations. There is one similarity between negotiation and way: it’s vital to know thy enemy. That why it’s best to let your counterpart make the first offer. Furthermore, you should also expect this first offer to be unreasonable and extreme. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for first offers to be unrealistic and far afield of your expectations. Just remember that this is only the most extreme thing that your counterpart can ask for, and by negotiating you will certainly get a better deal.