Never Split the Difference – Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

never splitFollowing up on my blog from August 2017, Negotiation – An Overview, I summarize the excellent book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, from former FBI negotiator, Chris Voss.

I highly recommend that you read this book to gain deeper insights into negotiation.

My summary below gives some of the insights found in this book.

  • We engage in selective listening, hearing only what we want to hear, our minds acting on a cognitive bias for consistency rather than truth.
  • Slow. It. Down. Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to make.
  • Put a smile on your face.

  • Imagine yourself in your counterpart’s situation.
  • Label your counterpart’s fears (and barriers) to diffuse their power.
    • It seems like … is valuable to you
    • It seems like you don’t like…
    • It seems like you value…
    • It seems like…. Makes it easier
    • It seem like you’re reluctant to…
    • It seems like… is important
    • It seems like you are worried that …
  • List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can.
  • Mirror the person to whom you are speaking; a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said.
  • By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.


  • Being pushed for “Yes” makes people defensive.
  • Getting the other side to say “No” has an amazing power to bring down barriers and allow for beneficial communication.
    • Is now a bad time for you?
  • One sentence E-Mail when you get no response:
    • Have you given up on this project?
    • Have you been moved off of this project?
  • Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure and in control, so trigger it.


  • Persuasion is about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea


  • The two sweetest words in any negotiation are ‘That’s Right.’”
  • Trigger a ‘That’s Right’ with a summary. A good summary is the combination of rearticulating the meaning of what is said plus the acknowledgement of the emotions underlying that meaning.
  • Active listening arsenal: effective pauses, minimal encouragers (yes, OK, uh-huh), mirroring, labeling (it all seems so unfair. I can now see why you sound so angry), paraphrase, summarize.
  • That’s Right is great.  But if “You’re Right” nothing changes.


  • Deadlines regularly make people say and do impulsive things that are against their best interests, because we all have a natural tendency to rush as a deadline approaches.
  • No deal is better than a bad deal.


  • The most powerful word in negotiation is ‘fair.’
  • To get real leverage you have to persuade them that they have something concrete to lose if the deal falls through.
  • By anchoring their emotions in preparation for a loss, you inflame the other’s side loss aversion so that they’ll jump at the chance to avoid it.
  • People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart see that there is something to lose by inaction.
  • Whether we like to recognize it or not, a universal rule of human nature, across all cultures, is that when somebody gives you something they expect something in return. And they won’t give anything else until you pay them back.
  • “Hey, dog, how do I know she’s all right?” (read the book to understand why this is a great negotiating question)
  • Create the illusion of control for the other side.


  • “He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.” Robert Estabrook
  • Summarize the situation and then ask: “How am I supposed to do that?”
  • Avoid why questions and use what and how questions
    • Not: Why did you do it? Instead: What caused you to do it?
    • 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?
    • How can we solve this problem?
    • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • With these questions, you have asked for help – triggering goodwill and less defensiveness. Also you’ve engineered a situation in which your formerly recalcitrant counterpart is now using his mental and emotional resources to overcome your challenges.
  • Why is always an accusation in any language


  • Negotiation is often called the art of letting someone else have your way.
  • Using the idea of loss aversion, change your rhetoric to “not lose” instead of “keep.”
  • “7% of a message is based on the words while 38% comes from the tone of voice and 55% from the speaker’s body and face.” Albert Mehrabian
  • The Rule of Three is getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation.
  • “Liars use more words than truth tellers and use far more third person pronouns…in order to put some distance between themselves and the lie.”  Deepak Malhotra
  • Use your own name to make yourself a real person to the other side and even get your own personal discount.
  • “I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me.”
  • Three negotiating style: accomodater, assertive, analyst


  • Mike Ackerman model based on work by Howard Raiffa
    • Set your target price (your goal)
    • Set your first offer at 65% of your target price
    • Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85%, 95% and 100%)
    • Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying ‘No’ to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
    • 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.
    • On your final number, throw in a nonmonetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.
    • Note that this system incorporates the psychological tactics we’ve discussed – reciprocity, extreme anchors, loss aversion.


  • To get leverage, you have to persuade your counterpart that they have something real to lose if the deal falls through.
  • Label your negative leverage and make it clear without attacking
    • It seems like you strongly value the fact that you’ve always paid on time
    • It seems like you don’t care what position you are leaving me
  • The paradox of power – the harder we push the more likely we are to be met with resistance.
  • People operating with incomplete information appear crazy to those who have different information.
  • Where your counterpart is acting wobbly, there exists a distinct possibility that they have things they can’t do but aren’t eager to reveal. They may just not have the power to close the deal.


  • The adversary is the situation and the person that you appear to be in conflict with is actually your partner.

About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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