Book notes: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss book summary review.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss



“A former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations – whether in the boardroom or at home.

Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’ head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: in saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles – counterintuitive tactics and strategies – you, too, can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal lives.

Life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for: buying a car, negotiating a salary, buying a home, renegotiating rent, deliberating with your partner. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you the competitive edge in any discussion.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

Yet again, this was another recommended read it from Audible. It also had a lot of reviews and a high average rating, and this criteria usually serves me well. Except for my last book. That was the exception apparently.

I’ve also read a handful of books on negotiation and used to do negotiations for work. I also created a negotiations course with a business partner of mine, so I’m curious to see what principles this author outlines and compared to my existing body of knowledge.

Key notes:

Chapter 1: The New rules

  • The open-ended question is a powerful negotiation tool
    • Calibrated questions are queries that the other side can respond to but that have no fixed answers
      • It buys you time
  • Humans all suffer from cognitive bias: unconscious and irrational brain processes that literally distort the way we see the world
  • The framing effect: people respond differently to the same choice depending on how it is framed
  • Loss aversion: people are statistically more likely to act to avert a loss than to achieve an equal gain
  • People want to be understood and accepted
    • Listening is the cheapest yet most effective concession we can make to get there
    • When individuals feel listened to, they tend to listen to themselves more carefully and openly evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings
    • In addition, they tend to become less defensive and oppositional and more willing to listen to you and other points of view
  • The concept is called tactical empathy
    • This is listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence to gain access to the mind of another person
    • Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do
  • Life is negotiation
    • Negotiation serves two distinct vital life functions:
      1. information gathering
      2. behavior influencing
  • In this world, you get what you ask for, you just have to ask correctly

Chapter 2: Be a Mirror

  • In negotiations, you should engage in the process with a mindset of discovery
    • Your goal at the outset is to extract and observe as much information as possible
  • It is really not that easy to listen well. We are easily distracted, we engage in selective listening, hearing only what we want to hear, our minds acting on a cognitive bias for consistency rather than truth
    • To remedy the schizophrenic in your head and the other person’s head, your sole and all-encompassing focus in the beginning should be the other person and what they have to say
    • This true, active listening along with the other tactics will disarm your counterpart and make them feel safe
    • It begins with listening, making it about the other people, validating their emotions and creating enough trust and safety for a real conversation to begin
  • Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making
  • Your most powerful tool in any verbal communication is your voice.
    • You can use your voice to intentionally reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch
  • When people are in a positive frame of mind they think more quickly and are more likely to collaborate and problem solve instead of fight
  • Mirroring, also known as isopraxism, is essentially imitation
    • It’s a neural behavior in which we copy each other to comfort each other
  • Biological principle: we fear what is different and are drawn to what’s similar
  • Being right isn’t the key to a successful negotiation, having the right mindset is
  • 4 steps to mirroring:
    1. Use late-night FM DJ voice
    2. Start with I’m sorry
    3. Mirror
    4. Silence (at least 4 seconds)
  • The language of negations is primarily of conversation and rapport
    • A way of quickly establishing relationships and getting people to talk and think together
  • Key lessons: a great negotiator aims to use her skills to reveal the surprises she is certain to find
    • Don’t commit to assumptions
      • Instead, see them as a hypothesis and use the negotiation to test them rigorously
    • Negotiation is not an active battle, it is a process of discovery
      • The goal is to uncover as much information as possible
    • Slow it down
    • Put a smile on
      • Positivity creates mental agility in both you and your counterpart.
  • Mirrors work magic
    • Repeat the last 3 words or the critical 1-3 words of what someone has just said
      • Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity which facilitates bonding

Chapter 3: Don’t Fear Their Pain, Label It

  • Instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators  identify and influence them
    • Emotions aren’t the obstacles, they are the means
  • Empathy is paying attention to another human being, asking what they are feeling, and making a commitment to understanding their world
    • Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow
  • Empathy is a classical soft communication skill but it has a physical basis
    • When we closely observe a persons face, gestures, and tone of voice, our brain begins to align with their’s in a process called neural resonance
  • Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it
    • Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels
  • Neutralize the negative, reinforce the positive
    • The fastest and most efficient means of establishing a quick working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and defuse it
    • The best way to deal with negativity is to observe it without reaction and without judgement
      • Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts
    • Clear the road before advertising the destination
  • Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power
    • Use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics

Chapter 4: Beware “Yes” – Master “No”

  • For good negotiators, “no” is pure gold
    • That negative provides a good opportunity for you and the other party to clarify what you really want by eliminating what you don’t want
  • “No” starts the negotiation
  • The right to veto
    • People will fight to the death to preserve their right to say no, so give them that right and the negotiating environment becomes more constructive and collaborative almost immediately
  • There is a deep and universal human need for autonomy
    • People need to feel in control
  • There are three kinds of yes:
    1. Counterfeit
    2. Confirmation
    3. Commitment
  • The connection built up with another person is useless unless the other person feels they are equally as responsible if not solely responsible for creating the connection, and the new ideas they have
  • Everyone you meet is driven by two primal urges:
    • The need to feel safe and secure
    • The need to feel in control
  • Book: Start With No
  • One sentence emailhave you given up on this project?

Chapter 5: Trigger the Two Words that Immediately Transform Any Negotiation

  • Trigger a “that’s right” epiphany with a summary
    • In business, “that’s right” leads to the best outcomes

Chapter 6: Bend Their Reality

  • Don’t compromise
    • The win-win mindset is usually ineffective and often disastrous
    • At best, it satisfies neither side
  • No deal is better than a bad deal
    • We don’t compromise because it’s right, we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face
      • We compromise to be safe
  • Don’t settle and never split the difference
  • You’ve got to embrace the hard stuff
    • That’s where the great deals are and that’s what great negotiators do
  • Deadlines: make time your ally
  • Time is one of the most crucial variables in any negotiation
    • Deadlines are often arbitrary, almost always flexible, and hardly ever trigger the consequences that we think or are told they will
    • Deadlines are the boogie man of negotiations, almost exclusively self-inflicted figment of our imagination unnecessarily unsettling us for no good reason
  • You shouldn’t hide your deadlines because when it is over for one negotiator, it is over for both sides
    • Adding a deadline means you’re negotiating with yourself, and you always lose
  • We are all irrational and all emotional
    • While we may use logic to reason ourselves towards a decision, the actual decision making is governed by emotion
  • The most powerful word in negotiations is “fair
    • We are mightily swayed by how much we feel we’ve been respected
  • Prospect theory: people are drawn to sure things over probabilities
  • Loss aversion: people will take greater risks to avoid losses than to achieve gains
    • Anchor their emotions in preparation for a loss and acknowledge their fears
    • Let the other guy go first most of the time
    • Establish a range
    • Pivot to non-monetary terms
    • When you do talk numbers, use odd ones
      • Non-rounded numbers seem more thoughtfulserious, and permanent to your counterpart
    • Surprise with a gift
      • Unexpected conciliatory gestures are hugely effective because they introduce a dynamic called reciprocity
        • The other party feels the need to answer your generosity in kind
How to negotiate a better salary:
  1. Be pleasantly persistent on non-salary terms
    • Once you’ve negotiated a salary, make sure to define success for your position as well as metrics for your next raise
  2. Spark their interest in your success and gain an unofficial mentor
    • Ask: what does it take to be successful here?
    • If someone gives you guidance, they will watch to see if you follow their advice. They will have a personal stake in seeing you succeed.
  • People take more risks to avoid loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart sees there something to lose by inaction

Chapter 7: Create the Illusion of Control

  • Negotiation is coaxing, not overcoming. Co-opting, not defeating
    • Most importantly, successful negotiation involves getting your counterpart to do the work for you and suggest your solution himself
    • Giving your counterpart the illusion of control by asking calibrated questions, by asking for help, is one of the most powerful tools for suspending unbelief
      • Only use what and how in calibrated questions
  • Aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiation
  • Avoid questions that can be answered with “yes” or tiny pieces of information
    • These require little thought and inspire the need for reciprocity

Chapter 8: Guarantee Execution

  • Yes” is nothing without “how
  • A gentle “how” question invites collaboration and leaves your counterpart with a feeling of having been treated with respect
  • A deal is nothing without good implementation
    • Your carefully calibrated how questions will convince them that the final solution is their idea
  • Askhow will we know we are on track, and how will we address things if we find we are off-track?
    • When they answer, you summarize their answers until you get a “that’s right”
      • Then you’ll know they’ve bought in
  • 7/38/55 Rule: only 7% of a message is based on words, while 38% comes from the tone of your voice, and 55% from the speaker’s body language and face
  • There are three kinds of ‘yes’: commitment, confirmation, counterfeit
  • The Rule of Three is simply getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation
    • It is tripling the strength of whatever dynamic you’re trying to drill into at the moment
    • The reason this works is because it is really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction
  • Liars tend to use more words and speak with third-party pronouns to distance themselves from the lie
    • Liars also tend to speak in more complex sentences to try and win over their suspicion counterparts
  • The Pinocchio Effect is when the number of words grows along with the lie
    • Liars are more worried about being believed, and work harder, perhaps too hard, at being believable
  • Using your own name creates the dynamic of forced empathy. It makes the other side see you as a person
    • Humanize yourself. Use your name to introduce yourself
    • Say it in a fun, friendly way
    • Let them enjoy the interaction too and get your own special price

Chapter 9: Bargain Hard

  • To be great at the bargaining table, you have to add to your strengths, not replace them
  • The Black Swan Rule: don’t treat others the way you want to be treated, treat them the way they need to be treated
  • For anger to be effective it has to be real
    • The key for it is to be under control because anger reduces our cognitive ability
  • In bare-knuckle bargaining, the most vital principle to keep in mind is never to look at your counterpart as an enemy

Chapter 10: Find the Black Swan

  • He believes that in every negotiation, each side is in possession of at least three black swans
    • Three pieces of information that, were they to be discovered by the other side, would change everything
  • To uncover these unknowns, we must interrogate our world, put out a call and intensely listen to the responseask lots of questions, read nonverbal clues and always voice your observations with your counterpart
  • Negotiation is more like walking on a tightrope then competing against an opponent
    • Focusing so much on the end objective well only distract you from the next step and that can cause you to fall off the rope
    • Concentrate on the next step because the rope will lead you to the end as long as all the steps are completed
  • Your counterpart always has pieces of information whose value they do not understand
    • Black swans are leverage multiplier. They give you the upper hand
    • In theory, leverage is the ability to inflict loss and withhold gain
      • Where is it your counterpart wants to gain and where do they fear losing?
        • Discover these pieces of information and you’ll build leverage over the other side perceptions, actions, and decisions
  • The party who feels they have more to lose and are the most afraid of that loss has less leverage
    • To get leverage, you have to persuade your counterpart that they have something real to lose if the deal falls through
  • In any negotiation, it’s not how well you speak, but how well you listen that determines your success
    • Understanding the other is a precondition to being able to speak persuasively and develop options that resonate with them
  • We trust people more when we view them as being similar or familiar
    • People trust those who are in their “in” group
    • Belonging is a primal instinct, and if you can trigger that instinct, you’ll immediately gain influence
  • He hopes this book gets you over the fear of conflict and encourages you to navigate it with empathy
    • If you’re going to be great at anything, you’re going to have to do that
  • You’re going to have to embrace regular, thoughtful conflict as the basis of effective negotiation and of life
    • The adversary is the situation, and that the person you appear to be in conflict with is actually your partner
  • Don’t avoid honest, clear conflict
  • When someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t
    • Search for constraintshidden desires, and bad information
  • Get face time with your counterpart
    • 10 minutes of face time often reveals more than days of research

Reader’s note: Wow, that was one of the best book acknowledgements I’ve ever read or heard. All of the “thank you’s” were so genuine and I felt like I really got to know these people once he was done.

When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion. You fall to your highest level of preparation

  •  People who expect more, and articulate it, get more

Themes / Main Ideas:

  1. Calibrated questions, mirroring, and labeling are effective tools for tactical empathy
  2. In this world, you get what you ask for, you just have to ask correctly
  3. Emotions aren’t the obstacles, they are the means
  4. People want to feel like they’re in control and will fight to preserve their autonomy
  5. Don’t settle and never split the difference. No deal is better than a bad deal.
  6. Emotions are the means. People want to feel heard and respected.
  7. Negotiation is coaxing, not overcoming. Co-opting, not defeating
  8. “Yes” is nothing without “how”. A deal is nothing without good implementation
  9. Don’t treat others the way you want to be treated, treat them the way they need to be treated
  10. Negotiation is more like walking on a tightrope then competing against an opponent. It is a discovery process to be taken one step at a time.
  11. In any negotiation, it’s not how well you speak, but how well you listen that determines your success
  12. You’re going to have to embrace regular, thoughtful conflict as the basis of effective negotiation and of life. Don’t avoid honest, clear conflict.
  13. People who expect more, and articulate it, get more

Closing thoughts:

Such a phenomenal book. Even though it took a while for me to get through (mostly because of a bug in the Audible app that makes it very difficult to take notes), it was well worth the listen.

It’s funny because I was listening to this book the same time I was posting book quotes for The Like Switch on my Yolocruz Book Club IG account and I found that they share many of the same principles. However, this isn’t too surprising as both books cover the topic of influence.

Another hallmark of a good book is that it weaves narratives along with the main ideas and lessons being taught. The author does that really well in this book so it makes it easier to learn and digest the ideas he presents.

As with many of my favorite books, this is one that is applicable to almost everyone because it covers such universally applied tactics that anyone can benefit from.


How to negotiate as if your life depended on it.

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