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Book Summary – Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Never Split the Difference - Book summary

In this book, experienced FBI negotiator and award-winning teacher, Chris Voss, shares tried-and-tested techniques for negotiations, that can be applied in a wide range of work and personal scenarios, from hostage situations to buying your house. In this free Never Split the Difference summary, you’ll learn some of the powerful negotiation strategies and techniques covered in the book.

Imagine you receive a call one day, and the person on the other end says, “We have your daughter. Give us $1 million or she dies.” What will you do or say?

For more than 20 years, Voss handled similar hostage negotiations with the FBI, dealing with kidnappers to bank robbers to terrorists/extremists. He found that his experience is applicable to a wide range of work and personal life situations, since the fundamentals of human negotiations are essentially the same in any situation—be it to free a hostage, buy a car, or get a pay raise. It boils down to the primal desire of getting what we want.

Negotiation Strategies And Tips

Although we try to evaluate our options logically, our final decisions are ultimately emotions-driven and irrational. Voss offers many powerful examples and tips on how to create value through negotiations. We’ve organized them into 8 key segments:

Never split the Difference summary_Negotiation Strategies and Tips

Let’s zoom in on one of these areas in detail here, then take a brief look at the remaining 7 areas. Feel free to get details on all 8 areas from our full 15-page book summary.


Negotiations are essentially about building rapport and having a dialogue. To be a good negotiator, you must master your active-listening skills and tools:

Hypothesize; Don’t Assume

Smart negotiators expect surprises in negotiations and aren’t fixated on their assumptions. Instead, they prepare various hypotheses of what the other party really wants, and focus on testing these hypotheses during the negotiations.

Listen Fully

When others are talking, most of us don’t really pay attention; we’re too busy formulating our own arguments in our heads. Silence that inner dialogue, and focus on listening to what the other party has to say. In so doing, you make them feel safe and quieten their own internal voices.

Don’t Rush

Don’t rush toward a resolution; it makes the other party feel like they’re not being heard, and breaks the trust required for a proper conversation. To get the other party to talk about what they want, you must slow down, listen, validate their feelings and make them feel safe to engage in a dialogue.

Use the Right Tone of Voice

To influence emotions, When people are in a positive state, they think better and are more willing to collaborate.

There are 3 key types of voices in negotiations:

  • Most of the time, you should be using the “positive/playful voice”. Relax, smile, and speak slowly and clearly, to project the image of someone pleasant and amicable.
  • Use the “late-night FM DJ voice” to make a point. Keep your voice calm, slow and warm, to project authority and trustworthiness. Make your statements using a downward voice inflection (which conveys you’re in control), and use an upward inflection to invite a response.
  • The “assertive voice” is rarely used, as it usually provokes the other party to push back.

Pause and Encourage

Silence/pauses can be very effective for emphasis and to encourage the other party to talk freely. You can also use simple phrases like “Yes”, “OK, “I see” to show that you’re listening and encourage them to share more.

Humans instinctively trust what’s familiar and fear what’s different. Use mirroring to encourage the other party to talk more, build rapport and buy time to uncover their wants. Essentially, you’re imitating the other person’s speech patterns, tone, vocabulary etc. One technique is to repeat the last 3 words or 1-3 key words that someone just said.

Handling Aggression

Imagine you’re facing an aggressive boss who just asked you to redo a project by end of the day. To get your way without direct confrontation:

Use the “late-night FM DJ voice” to calm him. Start with “I’m sorry…” then mirror his words with an inquisitive tone e.g. “I’m sorry, redo everything by today?”. Pause for at least 4s, so the mirror can work, then repeat the process in response to his reply.

Instead of saying, “what do you mean?” or “that’s impossible”, this approach prompts your boss to explain what he wants and why. In so doing, he may realize he only needs you to redo part of the work, or he doesn’t need it by today.

Other Negotiation Strategies & Tips

Here’s an overview of the other negotiation tips in the book:


People feel good when they are heard and understood. In our complete Never Split the Difference summary, you’ll find out more about tactical empathy, and how you can use labeling to validate someone’s emotions and diffuse negative feelings.


When someone says “Yes”, it doesn’t mean they agree with you. In fact, you should invite them to say “No” to move your negotiation forward.  Chris Voss explains why and how to get from “No” to “Yes”, and how to extract a “No” from someone, or get someone to respond if they’re ignoring you.


In any negotiation, the words “That’s Right” can turn things around, while the words “You’re Right” can bring things to a halt. Find out why and what you can do about it, from our complete 15-page summary!


Many people address conflicts by taking the middle ground. Good negotiation is about finding leverage in any situation and securing the best possible deal. Here, Voss explains why (and how) you must get time on your side, build the perception of fairness, and bend the other party’s reality to influence their thinking and decisions.


A good negotiation is not a wrestling match or a showdown, but a process of nudging the other party to reach the conclusion you want. To achieve this, you must put aside your ego and the need to be right. Let the other party believe they are in control and the solutions are theirs. Feel free to get the full Never Split the Difference summary for tools and tips to calibrate your questions, affirm others’ views, make requests and introduce new ideas in an effective way.


It’s possible to get a “yes”, only to have the deal unravel later. As a negotiator, you must observe both verbal and non-verbal cues carefully, to make sure you have a real agreement that will be executed.  Some of the techniques/things to watch for include asking “How” questions, ensuring you’ve reached all the key decision makers, learning to pick up subtle cues that tell you if the other party is lying or uncomfortable about the deal, and using multiple “Nos” to get the other party to counter-offer better deals. We explain each of these components in more detail in our full version of the Never Split the Difference summary.


At some point, you’ll face seasoned negotiators who know similar techniques and will bargain hard. It’s vital to prepare thoroughly before getting to the negotiation table. Familiarize yourself with the 3 negotiation styles (and know your/your counterpart’s negotiation style), know how to take (and return) punches, and how to break an impasse. In full summary, you’ll also learn how to prepare an Akerman Plan (which helps you to predictably meet in the middle).


The Black Swan is a metaphor for the “unknown unknowns”—events that seem impossible and can’t be predicted. Such hidden or unexpected information are hard to uncover, but can change everything in your negotiations. As a rule of thumb, Voss seeks to uncover at least 3 Black Swans in any negotiation. He also explains the 3 types of leverage, how to understand others’ worldview to effectively influence them, and areas to watch out for to uncover a Black Swan.

Putting it together: The 1-Page Negotation Sheet

Voss recommends that you prepare thoroughly, then condense your strategy into 1 page and stay flexible during negotiations. He ends off by walking you through the detailed steps of putting together your 1-page negotiation sheet which draws on all the tips outlined earlier.

Getting the Most from Never Split the Difference

Most of us are afraid of conflict and to push for what we want. Through this book, Voss hopes to help us overcome that fear and uncover value through negotiations. If you’d like to learn and apply the various strategies and tactics above, do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.

Never Split The Difference summary - book summary bundle

In the book, Chris Voss also includes useful details such as:

  • Background on our decision-making processes, and a brief history of how the approach to negotiation has evolved over the years;
  • Detailed accounts of various hostage situations e.g. bank robbery, kidnapping by rebels, prison siege), and Voss’ personal mistakes, successes and learning points;
  • Detailed case studies/examples of how the techniques were applied by Voss and his students in various scenarios: to close a sale, secure a promotion, change behavior on the football field, etc.
  • More details of how to prepare your 1-page Negotiation Sheet.

You can purchase a copy of the book here for the full mojo!

About the Author of Never Split the Difference

Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It is written by Chris Voss–an American businessman, author, and professor. He was formerly an FBI hostage negotiator, and is currently the CEO of The Black Swan Group Ltd, and also an adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a lecturer at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. Voss previously taught at various prestigious universities, including the Harvard University and The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was given the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, and the FBI Agents Association Award for Distinguished and Exemplary Service.

Never Split the Difference Quotes

“Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery.”

“Being right isn’t the key to a successful negotiation—having the right mindset is.”

“Empathy is not about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them.”

“‘No’ is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it.”

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

“Know the emotional drivers and you can frame the benefits of any deal in language that will resonate.”

“The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control.”

Click here to download Never Split the Difference book summary and infographic

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