Book Summary: Never Split the difference

Rating: 5/5: One of the most impressive books I have ever read. I had several “Aha” moments while reading it.

Madhuri Jain
8 min readJun 13, 2022
Source: GoodReads

When I first picked up this book, I read only the first chapter and decided it was not for me. However, when my role at job changed, I was required to communicate with a variety of people. As a result, if I wanted to get things done, I had to be on top of the negotiation game. Hence, I picked up this book again, and as I continued reading, it blew my mind. It contains a wealth of information that, when applied correctly, can help you become a master of negotiation in any field of life.

Chriss Voss is a former FBI agent and hostage negotiator who wrote this book. He has brilliantly listed his lifelong learnings, which would be difficult to identify otherwise. He focuses on tactical empathy and active listening skill as the strongest tools that one should use during negotiation. He believes that life is a negotiation, and we can utilize skills mentioned in this books in the every aspects of our day today life. 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.

In this article, I will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary.

1. New Rules

Negotiation begins with simple premise that humans have a basic desire to be accepted and understood. Hence, being an active listener wins you a half war. When people are listened to, they tend to evaluate and clarify their own feelings and thoughts carefully.

2. Be a Mirror

Great negotiators do not make any assumptions before the conversation instead make hypothesis. As they receive more information, they discard one hypothesis in favor of another. In general, people like to stick to what they believe. Great negotiators are able to question these assumptions and thus open to all the possibilities the counterpart may offer.

Negotiators can use three type of voices to make conversation:

  • The late-night FM DJ voice: this type of voice is calm and slow. When used properly it helps to create the atmosphere of trust and authority without triggering defensiveness.
  • The positive/playful voice: it is a natural voice of a joyful and positive person. While utilizing this voice one should smile and relax.
  • The direct and assertive voice: this type of voice may cause pushback and defensiveness. It should be used rarely.

Mirroring the last few words does the wonders. It helps the counterpart to reveal the strategy or purpose behind what they are saying.

3. Don’t Feel their Pain, Label it

Empathy vs Sympathy: There is a difference a between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is feeling the counterpart’s pain and show a support saying things will be fine. But empathy is to put yourself in someone’s else shoes and acknowledge his/her emotions as valid. It does not demand that you agree with the person’s idea. But by acknowledging the person’s emotions, we can immediately convey that we are listening.

Labelling the emotions: labelling is the way to validate person’s emotions. It helps them ensure that someone is interested in what they are feeling. It will further allow them to open up. We can label the emotions by initiating conversations with following words.

  • “It seems like..”!!
  • “It looks like..!!”
  • “It sounds like..!!”

Preparing for the worst: great negotiators prepare the list of worst things that a counterpart may say. Accepting those things in advance prepares them to head off negatives before the counterpart starts to take a root. Speaking the accusations aloud may sound exaggerating hence the other person might claim quite the opposite to be true.

4. Beware “Yes”-Master “No”

“No” word restrict us from being nice to people is the general understanding that is perceived among us. Great negotiators utilize this tool to get the information from the counterpart. Other people are required to feel safe, in control and they should be able to identify their boundaries in order to share the information.

One should break the habit of making people say “Yes”. Pushing people in saying “yes” can make them defensive. “No” is not necessarily a denial but it is usually a starting point of discussion. Saying no makes people safe, secure and in control. Sometimes the only way to get the counterpart to listen to you is to force them in saying “No”.

5. Trigger the two words that immediately transform any negotiation

Though everyday negotiations are not same as that of hostage situation but the psychological environment change is necessary for real gut level changes. Hence rather than bringing the counterpart to say ‘yes’. We should work towards making them say ‘That’s right’.

Utilizing the tactics mentioned in the previous chapters, we can bring a real change in the person. When someone says you right, nothing changes. In the kind of world, we live today, ‘You are right’ is usually used to avoid someone or some argument. When person speaks “That’s right” in some form, that's when the real change can occur. The social behavior of a person is such that they have a strong urge to be understood. Hence creating unconditional positive regard can trigger the real change in behavior and thoughts.

6. Bend Their Reality

This chapter focus on really good points of our mind psychology. I felt like a Pandora box of information was opened in front of me.

  • Negotiation is never a linear formula. We all have blind spots and hidden needs which can be leveraged to change the counterpart’s needs and expectations.
  • While negotiating, one should not compromise on the ask. Mostly people are ready to compromise because it is easy and saves our a*s. It usually leads to a win win situation.
  • One of the most important factors during the negotiation is the deadline. Deadlines cause people to say and do rash things because we all have a tendency to rush when a deadline approaches. However, deadlines are usually fictitious and rarely have the unexpected consequences.
  • We consider ourselves rational human beings, but we are everything except rational. We are emotional and irrational individuals. And no matter how much rationally we think, emotions help us to make decisions.
  • Usually, people have inclination towards the word “Fairness”. The negative emotional value of unfairness always overpowers the positive rational value of other things.

How to negotiate a better salary

Pleasant persistence is a kind of emotional anchoring that creates the empathy and sets the positive environment for constructive discussion.

Ask a question: What does it take to be successful here? By seeking guidance for this question, the counterpart invests a personal stake in seeing you succeed. Hence, we can get an unofficial mentor.

To make the negotiation seem reasonable, we can add non-monetary options which are important to the counterpart but not valuable for us.

7. Create the illusion of control

During the negotiation, a counterpart should feel in control of the conversation. By listening well and asking deliberate questions, we can redirect the counterpart to reveal information which afterwards can be leveraged in our favor. One should frame calibrated questions in the form of ‘How’ and ‘What’ and avoid the questions with ‘Why’ as it may lead to behave in a defensive way.

When attacked during the negotiation, one should avoid angry and emotional reactions and ask the counterpart the calibrated questions.

8. Guarantee Execution

  • The 7/38/55 Rule: The spoken words only matter seven percent during the negotiation. Remaining 38 and 55% is the tone and body language that matters. If we ensure to keep our tone gentle and soft, there are higher chances that the negotiation will turn out the way we want.
  • We need to identify aggressive jerks and liars. Liars can be spotted by the kind of words they use. Usually, they distant themselves and use they/them/others pronouns more frequently. They speak put extra efforts to explain things as they are more worried about being believed.
  • We can say no four times before actually using the word “No”. The very first time, we can say no by asking well calibrated question which starts with “How”. While asking such questions, we should always keep the tone gentle. The second time we can appreciate the efforts they are making and deny politely. Third time, the response can be more direct such as “I am sorry but I am afraid that I cannot do it.”
  • One should use their name more often to make themselves more humanize.

9. Bargain Hard

There is different type of people in the world but only three type of negotiators. When bargain seems to go sideways, we can identify the type of our counterpart and prepare the approach accordingly.

  • Analysts: This type is methodical and diligent, reserved problem solver, solo worker, skeptical by nature and information aggregator. When they are silent, they need time to think. They have little values to apologies. For them time is equal to preparation.
  • Accommodators: This type is sociable, friendly and relationship focused. They like to spend time building relationships. They are either angry or upset when silent. These types are poor time managers. They may agree to give something which in reality they can not deliver. An Apology is the key to get them back.
  • Assertive: This type is direct, honest and logical. They value their time and focus on getting things done rather than doing it perfectly. They like to be heard and they like to win above anything else. When they are silent, they actually run out of words to say anything.

During the bargain one should not be visible as needy they should be in the mood of fight or flight.

Using sentences that starts with I makes a lot of difference. For example, I am sorry but I can not accept that.

The guy across the table is never a problem but the unresolved deal is.

The Ackerman model is an offer-counteroffer method. It is a six-step process:

  1. Set your target price (your goal).
  2. Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  3. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent).
  4. Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
  5. When calculating the final amount, use precise, non-round numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.
  6. On your final number, throw in a non-monetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.

10. Finding the Black Swan

  • We trust people more when we see them as similar or familiar. Belonging is a primary instinct.
  • Every engineer, every executive, every child wants to believe they are capable of the extraordinary. When someone displays a passion for what we’ve always wanted and conveys a purposeful plan of how to get there, we allow our perceptions of what’s possible to change.
  • When you ascertain your counterpart’s unattained goals, invoke your own power and follow-ability by exuding passion for their goals. We’re all hungry for a map to joy, and when someone is courageous enough to draw it for us, we naturally follow.
  • Research studies have shown that people respond favorably to requests made in a reasonable tone of voice and followed with a “because” reason.
  • There are three types of leverages:
    Positive: the ability to give someone what they want.
    the ability to hurt someone. One should avoid using this.
    using the counterpart’s norms to bring them around.
  • Pushing hard for what you believe is not selfish. It is not bullying. It is not just helping you.

Final Remarks

This was one of the most informative read of the year so far. I am glad that my mentor recommended this book to me. Get this book ASAP :)



Madhuri Jain

Empowering ambitious mothers who are in their 20s and 30s to break through their limiting beliefs and reach their full potential.