Summary: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
Summary: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Summary: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

The Power of Open-Ended Questions

Questions that other side can respond to but have no fixed answers for example questions starting with “How” “Why” buy you time and give your counterpart the illusion of control.

Just ask 3 or 4 open-ended questions over and over and over. They will get worn out answering and give you what you want.

Separate person, emotion and problem

Don’t get focused on person (what they want). Instead focus on their interests (why they want it). So that I can find what they really want.

Generate Win-Win options

Life isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because you get what you want doesn’t mean your counterpart has to lose. Work cooperatively to evaluate possible solutions for both you and your counterpart.

Pay attention to Cognitive Biases

Remember your unconscious irrational brain is distorting the way you see the world. All humans suffer from cognitive biases for example prospect theory.

Recommended Reading: The Social Animal

Prospect Theory (Loss Aversion Theory)

We take unwarranted risks the in face of uncertain losses. We are statically more likely to act to avert a loss than to achieve an equal gain.

Switching just 1 word from keep to not lose can unconsciously influence the counterpart decisions.

“Which one would you prefer?”

  1. 100% chance of winning $100
  2. 50% chance of winning $200

Most people will choose A. How about this:

  1. 100% chance of losing $100
  2. 50% chance of losing $200

Now the same people will favor B. Interesting right. This is the epitome of people being more motivated to act to avoid a loss than to gain equally.

What about this:

“Imagine that the U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows:

  • If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.
  • If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.

Which of the two programs would you favor?”

Think about that for a second while I show you the options shown to the other group of participants in the experiment.

“Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows:

  • If Program C is adopted 400 people will die.
  • If Program D is adopted there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.

Which of the two programs would you favor?”

In the first group, most people picked Program A—they wanted to guarantee that some lives would be save. But in the second group, most people picked Program D. Even though that option is identical to Program B, which people didn’t like.

Empathetic Listening

When individuals feel they’re being listened to, they tend to listen to themselves. They then can carefully and openly evaluate their own thoughts and feelings.

Think about what they have to say

Instead of thinking what you’re going to say, focus on your counterpart. After all, you should have the least interest in what you have to say because you already know what you’re going to say.

Your Positive Voice

We all know we should talk in positive/playful voice, that of an easy-going and good-natured person. Because we think better and problem-solve better when in positive frame of mind.

Your Late-night DJ Voice

That being said when you inflect your voice in a downward way; clearly and slowly, it conveys the idea that you’rein control.

You can be very direct and to the point as long as you create safety by your tone (that says I’m ok, You’re ok, Let’s figure things out together).

  1. Start with I’m sorry…
  2. Mirror what he says
  3. Silence (let it do its magic)
  4. Repeat


Mirroring sends “Trust Me” signals to other’s unconscious mind. You can mirror not only their speech also their body language, vocabulary, tempo and tone. We’re rarely aware that we’re being mirrored, but it’s a sign that people are bonding and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust.

Research says an average tip of waiter who mirrored went up to 70% more than those who used positive reinforcement (mirroring).

Let’s make two copies of the paperwork.

I’m sorry two copies? (tone should be please help me understand)

Yes, one for us and one for the customer.

I’m sorry, so you’re saying client is asking for a copy and we need a copy for internal use.

Actually, I’ll check with client. They haven’t asked for anything. But we definitely need a copy.

Absolutely. Thanks for checking with the customer. Where would you like to store our copy?

It’s fine. You can store it anywhere.


As a matter of act, you can put them in my office. I’ll get the new assistant to print it for me after the project is done. For now, just create two digital backups.

In the above example: Saying “What do you mean by that” will likely irritate my boss and make him defensive. Mirroring “two copies” “anywhere”… on the other hand will get you the clarity you want while signaling respect and concern for what your counterpart is saying.

It might probably be awkward as heck when you first try but that’s the only hard part about it. Once you get the hang of it, it will become a conversational swiss-army knife.

Tactical Empathy

Understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you can increase your influence in all the moments that follow. In other words, emotional intelligence on steroids.

As they talk, imagine that you’re that person. Visualize yourself in the position they describe, put in as much detail as you can, as if you’re actually there.


Label an emotion, apply rational words to their feelings.

It seems like…

It sounds like.

It looks like…

If they disagree with the label, step back and say “I didn’t say that was what it was. I just said it seems like that…

Helpful tactic in deescalating angry confrontations because it makes the person acknowledge feelings rather than continuing to act out. Continuously label each negative feeling, and replace it with positive, compassionate and solution-based thoughts.

Diffusing Fear

We wear fears upon fears like layers against the cold. So, getting to safety takes time. Be patient. Uncover each layer by asking:

What else is there you feel is important to add to this?

Beauty of going right after the negativity is that it brings us to the zone of empathy. It’s going to feel awkward and artificial at first, but keep at it. Learning to walk felt awfully strange too.

When they’re zoning out

When someone’s not listening, intentionally mislabel their emotions or desires so the say no.

NO is pure gold

NO provides a great opportunity for us to clarify what they and you really want by eliminating what we don’t want. Clearly give them permission to say “NO” to your ideas. Their emotional calmness, effectiveness of the decisions will go up, and they can start looking at your proposal.

Is now a bad time to talk? instead of Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Sooner they say No, sooner they’re willing to see opportunities that they were blind to previously.

Rethink the word NO as

  • I’m not yet ready to agree
  • You’re making me feel uncomfortable
  • I do not understand
  • I don’t think I can afford it
  • I want something else
  • I need more information
  • I want to talk it over with someone else

Ask solution-based questions to dig deeper:

  • What about this doesn’t work for you?
  • What would you need to make it work?
  • It seems like there’s something here that bothers you.

YES is not always gold

There are 3 types of yesses – Counterfeit, Confirmation, Commitment

Commitment yes is the one you’re going after.

Everyone you meet is driven by 2 primal urges

We all need to feel safe and in control. Satisfy those drives, and you’re in the game. Arguing them into a corner will push my counterpart to flee with counterfeit yes.

Your level of discomfort correlates directly to how quickly he pushes you for yes. A smile and a nod might signify Get me out of here as much as it means Nice to meet you.

Yes is nothing without How

Agreement is nice. Contract is better. Signed check is best.

Drive towards That’s Right

You’re right is often an escape hatch. Getting to That’s right is a staple in all negotiations.

Deadlines are often arbitrary

Deadlines are almost always flexible, and hardly trigger consequences we think.

Shape What is Fair

Create psychological safety nets by saying:

I want you to feel like you’re being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me anytime if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.

Strive for reputation of being fair. Your reputation precedes you.

When counterpart says “I’ve given you a fair offer”

Using your late-night DJ voice say:

Fair? It seems like you’re read to provide evidence that supports that.

When counterpart says “I just want what’s fair”

Don’t counteroffer, instead take a deep breath and say:

Okay I apologize. Let’s stop everything and go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it.

Let the other side anchor monetary negotiations

But if a counterpart is rookie, you could throw out an extreme anchor.

OR if you know the market and dealing with an equally informed pro, you might offer a number just to make the negotiation go faster.

Otherwise, let them offer first.


Most people glimpsing 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 estimate that it yields a higher result than the same string in reverse order 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8.

That’ because we focus on the first number and extrapolate. We unconsciously adjust our expectations in the direction of the opening number. That’s why extreme anchors are powerful negotiation tools.


During salary negotiation instead of saying I’m worth 110,000. Say at top places like X Corp, people in this job get between 130,000 and 170,000.

The firm would probably stick to lower range because it looks so cheap next to 170,000.

Calibrated Questions

Avoid questions that look for single answer, avoid can is are do does.

Use questions that inspire counterpart to think and speak expansively Who what when where why how.

Why can sometimes backfire

Why can translate to defensiveness and accusation. Only time you should use why successfully is when the defensiveness that is created supports the change, you’re trying to get them to see. For example:

Why would you ever change from the way you’ve done things and try my approach?

Ask “How” and “What”

How engages because how asks for help (counterpart will think he’s in control).

How can also be used as a gentle and graceful way of saying no, and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution.

How am I supposed to do that? (notice there is no NO but still elegantly manage to deny the demand. Tone of voice is critical here)

How does this look to you?

What about this works / doesn’t work for you?

Why did you do it? What caused you to do it? (seems less accusatory)

What about this is important to you?

How can I help to make this better for us?

How would you like me to proceed?

What is it that brought us into this situation?

When you’re verbally assaulted

Do not counterattack. Instead disarm your counterpart by asking calibrated question.

Who has control in conversation? Listener or the talker?

Listener. Because talker is revealing information while listener is directing the conversation towards his goals.

Influencing unseen forces behind the table

Often times, you’re negotiating with not only the person across the table also the people behind the table; people you cannot see. Uncover and neutralize potential roadblocks by asking:

How does this affect the rest of your team?

How on board are people not on this meeting?

What do you colleagues see as their main challenges in this change?

Beware of behind the table (level II players). They can help or block agreements they like or don’t like. You can’t ignore level II players even when you’re talking to CEO. There will always be someone whispering into his years.

Addressing deal killers are more important than deal makers.

7-38-55 rule

Your words only account for 7% of my message. Your tone of voice account for 38%, and body language and facial expressions 55%.

If any of them don’t align with the rest, it’s possible the speaker is lying or unconvinced. And it’s your job to use labels to discover the source of discrepancy.

Rule of Three Yesses

It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake agreement. Get your counterpart to agree on the same thing three times without sounding like a broken record or come off as pushy:

  1. First Yes – They give commitment
  2. Second Yes – You label or summarize their commitment
  3. Third Yes – You ask calibrated how or what question about what next

Spotting Liars

Liars use more words and have discrepancies between their words and body languages.

Humanize Yourself

Use your name to introduce myself. Say it in a fun and friendly way.

Before you say NO, express NO four times.

  1. First No – Say How am I supposed to do that?
  2. Second No – Say Your officer is very generous. I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me.
  3. Third No – Say I’m sorry. But I’m afraid I just can’t do that.
  4. Forth No – Say I’m sorry, no.

And remember to keep smiling when you express No.

Types of Negotiators

  1. Analyst
  2. Accommodator
  3. Assertive

Each type views the importance of time differently.

  • For analyst, time is preparation.
  • For accommodator, time is relationship.
  • For assertive, time is money.

The ‘I am Normal’ Paradox

There’s a 66% chance your counterpart type is different from you. Don’t treat other the way they want to be treated. Treat them the way they need to be treated.

Getting to Your Price

Scenario 1

  1. Get him name his price (prepare for his extreme anchor)
  2. Deflect the punch in a way that opens up the negotiation.
    1. How am I supposed to do that?
    2. What are we trying to accomplish here?
    3. Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.

Scenario 2

  1. He pushed you to go first.
  2. Instead of naming a price, anchor an extreme number that someone else might charge.
    1. Well if you go to HBS, they’re going to charge you $2,500 a day.

Getting to Your Number

  1. Set your number.
  2. Set your first offer at 65pc of your number.
  3. Raise 3 times to 85pc, 95pc and 100pc.
  4. Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying No to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
  5. Use non-round odd numbers 37,983$ on your final offer. It gives credibility and signals that your’e at your limit.
  6. Throw in a non-monetary item to show again you’re at your limit.

Pivot to Non-Monetary Terms

With an extreme anchor, you can offer your counterpart things that aren’t important or costly to you but are important to them (like publishing cover story, it doesn’t cost you a dime but it helps them a lot).

When his offer is Ridiculous

Take a deep breath. Allow little anger. Channel it at the proposal (not the person). Say:

I don’t see how that would ever work.

For anger to be effective, it has to be real. Key is to put it under control because anger also reduces your cognitive ability.

Personal across the table is not the problem.

The unresolved issue is the problem.

You cannot get rid of the person and expect everything will be alright. This mentality is toxic to any negotiation.

Never create an enemy; from time to time you’re going to be forced into real bare-knuckle bargaining with a hard-ass haggler. Pay or we will kill types. So expect them and embrace them.

You fall to your highest level of preparation

While we may use logic to reason ourselves towards a decision, the actual decision making is governed by emotion.

That being said, any plan is better than no plan. So, prepare, prepare, prepare!

Known Knowns. Things we know like our counterpart’s name, his company, his offer…

Known Unknowns. Things we know exist but we don’t know, like the possibility that the other person may get sick and leave us with another counterpart.

Unknown Unknowns. Things we don’t know that we don’t know. (Chris calls this Black Swans)

Unearthing Unknowns Unknowns. Get face time. Remember 7-38-55 rule.

Observe unguarded moments (first few mins before you get down to business, and the last few moments as everyone is leaving tell you more about the other side than anything in between. That’s why reporters have a credo to never turn off their recorders: we always get the best stuff at the beginning and end of the interview)

Leverage and Power are different

Assume Donald Trump is stranded in a desert and the owner of the only store for miles has the water. In this case, the owner has leverage, despite the massive power of USA president.

If you need to sell your laptop right now, you have less leverage than if you don’t have a deadline. It’s common sense that the party who feels they have more to lose has less leverage.

Deflect direct threats

Label their emotions subtly:

It seems like you strongly a value the fact that you’ve always paid one time.

It seems like you don’t care what position you’re leaving me in.

Know your counterpart’s religion

You can gain holistic understanding of your counterpart’s worldview and leverage that knowledge to set your negotiating movies.

Listen Close and Listen More

Review everything you hear. Compare notes with your team members. You will often discover new information. Use backup listeners whose only job is to listen between the lines.

I need this ‘Because’…

People respond favorably to requests made in a reasonable tone of voice, followed by ‘because’ reason. It doesn’t even matter the reason made sense.

People are NOT crazy

Instead people are:

  1. Misinformed.
  2. Constrained.
  3. Have other hidden interests.

It’s Normal to be Afraid

Every negotiation, conversation, moment of life is a series of conflicts that managed well, can rise to creative beauty. Embrace them!