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

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 summary of Never Split the Difference, we’ll outline some of the powerful negotiation strategies and techniques covered in the book. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.

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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

We’ll just zoom in on one of these areas in detail here, with an overview of the remaining 7 areas. Do get the full mojo from the book or our full 15-page book summary.

ESTABLISHING RAPPORT

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.

Get a copy of the book for the full tips and examples!

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:

SHOW EMPATHY & BUILD TRUST

People feel good when they are heard and understood. In the book / full summary, we explain what’s tactical empathy, and how to use labeling to validate someone’s emotions and diffuse negative feelings.

USE “NO” TO CREATE SAFETY & MOMENTUM

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.  In the book, 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. You can also get a detailed overview from our complete summary.

USE “THAT’S RIGHT” FOR PERMISSION TO PERSUADE

That’s Right” are 2 magic words that can transform any negotiation, vs “You’re Right” are the 2 worst words. You can trigger a “That’s Right” using a summary, and this is elaborated in  the book / full summary.

SHAPE REALITY & PERCEPTIONS

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.

CREATE THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL

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. A powerful took to use is the calibrated question—get the book or full summary to find out how to calibrate your questions, to affirm someone’s views, make requests and introduce new ideas in a way that makes the other party to feel in control.

Digest these powerful tips in just minutes with our book summary and infographic!

ENSURE EXECUTION

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 complete 15-page summary.

PREPARE YOURSELF TO FACE THE PROFESSIONALS

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 the book / full summary, we also explain how to prepare an Akerman Plan (which helps you to predictably meet in the middle).

FIND THE BLACK SWANS

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. In the book, Voss 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. We’ve summarized these key insights in our complete 15-page summary.

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.

Other Details in “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. The book also includes useful details including:

• 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.

Do get a copy of the book for the full details, or get our full book summary for an overview of the various ideas and tips.

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