Never Split the Difference By Chris Voss and Tahl Raz (Book Summary)


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Have you ever attempted and failed to convince the following people: your partner to go to a different restaurant, a car dealer to offer you a better deal or a potential client to sign your business proposal. The majority of us fail to convince other people on a fairly daily basis. Irrespective of how hard we try, our efforts go in vain.

Well, that is because we are not negotiating correctly.



This is exactly what the following chapters explain. You will get to know the secrets of successful negotiation from Chris Voss who was once the FBI’s number one international kidnapping negotiator.


1 – Negotiation happens in every part of life and there’s more to it than rationality and intellect.


People assume that negotiation is a thing that is meant for lawyers and corporate board rooms. However, the truth is, humans negotiate in every aspect of life. Whereas negotiating is what police do while dealing with hostage circumstances and it is also something that occurs at the workplace, at home, with your partners and your children.

Negotiation is simply just trying to get things done in your way; it is also having an interaction or communication with a certain result in mind. Any time two or more people want something from each other, negotiation happens. For instance, if you want an increase in your salary and your boss doesn’t want to increase it. Or maybe you want your kids to sleep at 8:00 pm but your kids want to stay up until ten.

Therefore, negotiation occurs often than most people think. However, what makes one a successful negotiator?

It is beyond just mathematical logic and extreme intellect. That is due to the reason of humans not always being rational, they frequently fail to act on the basis of logic or reason. To make matters worse, humans are not usually predictable. People mostly act based on their animal instinct and this is irrational, impulsive and wild.

This is exactly Daniel Kahneman a psychologist and Amos Tversky an economist found after years of their study. Their findings challenged conventional thinking on negotiation. Here is how it challenged it.



During the 1970s when negotiation was first defined as a field, it was based on the assumption that each and every one of us acted rationally to her own benefit. But, Tversky and Kahneman’s research found out that humans are susceptible to what is known as “cognitive bias” which makes humans unconsciously irrational.

They also identified 150 various types of biases, including the so-called framing effect which states that when people are faced with the same choices, people will make different choices depending on how the options are framed.

In simplicity, for you to be a successful negotiator, your method has to consider the difficult nature of humankind. In these next chapters, you will learn how to do that.


2 – Successful negotiation is all about building trust and gaining information.


A good negotiator goes to the bargaining table in order to gain a lot of information about the issue and their counterpart. Normally, during that process, new information suffice; therefore success means being ready for any circumstances.

For example, you wouldn’t really know what a hostage-taking terrorist wants or how such a person will act. He might even have weapons even if you were told he doesn’t have, he could give you the wrong information just to lead you astray.

A real-life situation of such happened back in 1993 when the author was involved in negotiation after a robbery situation happened which resulted in the robbery taking three hostages, two bank tellers and a security guard in a Manhattan bank. The robber who spoke with the FBI said there were about four robbers and he was alone while his partners had just robbed the ATM while he went to the bank taking hostages.



Going back to that situation, the author realizes that the robber only gave the wrong information just to confuse the author and his colleagues in order to buy himself more time to plan his escape

Therefore, information is important and to get information, you need to create an amicable rapport with your counterpart. This is why one aim of negotiation is to get the other party to talk more. As he or she does, you will be able to determine what she needs and wants.

With that being said, nobody is going to give information if they don’t trust you and this is why rapport is important. If you are able to create a good rapport, you will build trust in the process making it more possible for the other person to reveal useful information.

But how does one create a good rapport? The next chapter will explain how.


3 – Listening attentively to and even repeating what your counterpart says helps in building trust.


You know that trust is important, however, how do you build trust?

The best way to build trust is to participate in active listening which means showing empathy and showing that you recognize what the other person is going through. Different methods can help.

The first one is called mirroring which simply means repeating what your counterpart says however you say it in an inquisitive tone. For instance, using the Manhattan bank robbery negotiation that was talked about in the previous chapter. Chris Watts who was the robber in that situation kept asking for a vehicle. He said his own car was gone because his driver fled.

On hearing this, the author mirrored it by saying, “Your driver was chased away?”  Watt responded by saying his driver ran when the police got to the scene. The author held onto that information as well as the other pieces he got through mirroring, many of which helped the FBI and NYPD in catching the driver.



Though, why does mirroring work?

Majorly, it works because it makes the other person feel that you are alike. After all, your counterpart is human and will be certainly drawn to similarities. This is because, just like animals, people tend to be in groups with similarities. By doing so, we get a sense of belonging and it creates trust. One powerful thing in negotiation is when your counterpart begins to trust you, he will be more likely to talk and find a solution.

To assess the effects of this method scientifically, Richard Wiseman a psychologist carried out an experiment where waiters would take orders from customers. One group was asked to use mirroring while the other group of waiters was asked to use positive reinforcement through words like “no problem” and “great.” In the end, waiters who mirrored the orders customers gave got higher tips of up to 70% more than the other group. 


4 – The tone of your voice can do wonders during negotiation.


Have you ever been offended with a person not because of what the person said but because of how the person said it?

Actually, it makes sense because intonation and the voice are strong instruments that help in a successful negotiation. For example, if the other person is likely to become offended and anxious, you should use a deep and soft voice or what the author referred to as your Late-Night FM DJ voice. By talking slow and soothing, this tone will ensure a deep effect on the other person.

The tone will ease him making him more likely to give the information you are finding. At a specific point during the bank robbery negotiation, the author had to continue from his colleague, Joe over communication with the robber. In order to avoid Watts from getting offended or anxious from the switch, the author told him in a deep and soothing voice that Joe was out and he took over. It was said in a calm manner which was why Watts didn’t even mind the switch.



With that being said, the majority of situations require a different tone, called your positive/playful voice. This voice shows that you are gentle and empathetic; it set things in a positive light with an encouraging behavior.

This voice will normally come out if you smile while talking. Even though the person you are having a conversation with doesn’t see your smile, it will show in the tone of your voice.

During a vacation at Istanbul, a colleague of the author was stunned by his girlfriend’s capability to make great deals with backstreet spice sellers. He realized that all the time she negotiates for better prices, however, she did this in a playful and positive manner. Although the sellers themselves were skilled bargainers and her method was accepted by them which convinced them in giving her a better deal. Attempt this yourself when you are at a store or a market!


5 – Understand and know the emotions of your counterpart to place yourself effectively during a negotiation.


Progress is achieved by tapping into and understanding a patient’s emotions in psychotherapy. The same thing happens in negotiation.

Instead of ignoring emotions, you have to ensure that you combine them with empathy to your own tactical benefit. But, being empathetic doesn’t really mean agreeing with the other person. It simply means trying to see things from his point of view. Here, tactical empathy comes into play, it means using your understanding of your counterpart’s perspective to place yourself better in the negotiation

One approach to that is called labeling. Labeling means telling your counterpart that you understand and recognize both his position and feelings.



This simple method works by soothing the other person down and making him act more rationally. Consider a study that was conducted in 2007 by Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California. In this study, Lieberman showed participants pictures of people that were showing strong emotion, this activated their amygdalas which is an area of the brain responsible for fear. However, when these same participants were asked to say what emotions they saw, their brains experienced activity in the areas connected to rational thinking.

You could look at another illustration from 1998 where four prison fugitives thought to be in possession of automatic weapons hid out in a Harlem apartment. The author realized what they were feeling and he labeled those feelings: he said to them that he knew they didn’t want to leave the apartment because they were troubled that if they opened the door, they would be shot and they were scared of returning back to prison.

Six hours after dead silence, the fugitives turned themselves in and they told the author that he had calmed them down. This means that labeling had worked. He simply understood and recognized their emotions which lead to a positive result in the process. 


6 – Don’t accept the other person’s request, don’t compromise, and don’t rush things.


Have you ever been in such haste to resolve an argument and you ended up unhappy with the final outcome? No one wants that and it is essential to remember that accepting a bad deal or compromising is often a mistake. This is known as splitting the difference and you have to escape that in any possible way.

Most importantly, every human as well your counterpart has opinions and needs that she won’t want to share or perhaps she doesn’t even know about it. When your counterpart requests something, you can’t be too sure if she really needs it; therefore giving her what she requested won’t really solve the problem.

For instance, let’s say someone is holding a politician hostage and the person says he will cut her head off except he gets one million dollars. Even though the person holding someone hostage says he is only after the money, he might also want to make a political point. If that is the case and you give him the money he asked for, you will not know whether or not he will release the hostage.



For the same reason, it is very important to take your time and think through your decision even when the counterpart gives you a deadline. Remember that your duty is to learn about the other person and if you are in a hurry to make a decision, there are high chances that your decision will be clouded. It is essential that you avoid that. It helps when you know that the majority of deadlines are flexible and relatively random.

Let us consider the example of the wife of a Haitian police officer that was kidnapped. The kidnappers requested for $150,000 and after weeks of negotiation, the author noticed a pattern: when it was close to Friday, the kidnappers would push harder for the ransom money before laying low for the weekend. He realized that they needed money in order for them to party!

By understanding this, the author was able to establish that deadlines were not so important and that he could negotiate a much lesser price because you don’t need $150,000 to enjoy in Haiti. So as for other negotiations, patience, time and information were all needed for a successful result. 


Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss Book Review


By utilizing a few simple approaches and understanding where the other person is coming from, you can easily negotiate your way through any circumstance either it’s with your boss, your partner or your local used-car dealer. the main thing is to stay calm and create trust with the other person.


Be ready for the utmost.

In one regard, negotiation is just like war. its important to know your enemy. This is why you should regularly allow your counterpart to make the first offer. With that being said, you should also be ready for this first offer to be extreme. As a matter of fact, it is completely normal for the first offer to be far from your expectations. However, bear in mind that this is just a representation of limit for your counterpart and you can virtually get much better.  


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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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