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Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz.
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Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It, by Chris Voss (with co-writing assistance from Tahl Raz) aims to provide a comprehensive guide to negotiation theory and strategy, giving you the tools you need to negotiate successfully.

Voss’s thesis is that good negotiation happens on the emotional level of the brain, not the rational level. Your job as a negotiator, Voss argues, is to practice and display empathy toward your counterpart by understanding their emotions, learning to see the situation from their point of view—and, ultimately, getting them to feel comfortable enough with you to let their emotional guard down.

The Emotional Basis of Negotiation

Voss argues that most people have two basic emotional needs—to feel secure and to feel in control. Successful negotiators are those who can navigate these emotional truths and use them to tap into their counterpart’s real desires and fears.

The Rider and the Elephant: A Metaphor for Reason and Emotion?

Other writers have emphasized just how much emotion—not reason—drives our behavior. In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006), author Jonathan Haidt uses the metaphor of a human rider sitting atop an elephant to illustrate how the human mind works. The rider, representing reason, can do her best to attempt to direct the elephant. But the elephant, representing emotion, is far more powerful and has its own will; it will only comply with the rider’s commands if those commands are not in conflict with its desires. This metaphor closely tracks Voss’s view of human nature, as he argues that emotion is the primary influence over our behavior. Your negotiating success hinges on understanding the power of emotion to overwhelm reason—and harnessing that power to get what you want from your counterpart, just as a rider harnesses an elephant.

Calculated Empathy: Make Them Feel Safe

Voss advocates using calculated empathy—understanding someone else’s feelings to get what you want from them. Calculated empathy gives you crucial insight into why someone is behaving the way they are. Ultimately, according to Voss, you need your counterpart to feel emotionally safe with you—you want them to see you more as a partner than an adversary.

Voss outlines five calculated empathy techniques:

1. Active listening: Talk slowly and calmly to show that you’re concerned about how the other person feels. (Shortform note: Even small active listening gestures—like nodding your head, smiling, looking in your prospect’s eyes, and occasionally adding in short phrases like, “Got it” or “I see”—will make your counterpart feel as if you are listening to them.)

2. Using the right tone: Use a light and encouraging voice as your default tone to put your counterpart at ease. (Shortform note: Research supports the argument that tone can be crucial to achieving your goals, even in non-negotiation situations—and that using the wrong tone can lead to unfortunate consequences—for example, the highly gendered description of Hillary Clinton’s voice as “shrill” may have played a role in the failure of her presidential candidacy in 2016.)

3. Reflecting back: Repeat the last three words that the person has said in your next sentence. By imitating their speech patterns, you’re signaling to the other person not only that you’re hearing them, but also that you’re similar to them. (Shortform note: Reflecting back is closely related to the concept of familiarity. Someone who feels this sense of rapport or familiarity with you is far more likely to comply with your requests, because the social costs of saying “no” to a friend or even an acquaintance are much higher than they are for a stranger.)

4. Labeling: Identify and vocalize someone else’s emotions through phrases like, “It seems like you’re disappointed by what’s being offered.” (Shortform note: In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, author Marshall Rosenberg identifies emotional labeling as an essential component of expressive nonviolent communication—a way of interacting with ourselves and others rooted in compassion and the conscious effort to avoid causing emotional harm.)

5. Accusation audits: List every bad thing your counterpart could say about you at the beginning of the negotiation, through phrases like, “You probably think I’m lowballing you on this offer, that I’m trying to cheat you, and that I don’t have any respect for your intelligence.” This triggers your counterpart’s innate empathy and makes them want to reassure you that you’re not as bad as you’ve portrayed yourself. (Shortform note: Although not specifically addressed by Voss, anticipating accusations could potentially be misused if you were to deliberately mislabel someone else’s perceptions of yourself, thereby tricking them into expressing empathy for you under false pretenses.)

Put Them in the Driver’s Seat

In addition to making your counterpart feel secure and listened to through calculated empathy, Voss writes that you also need to make them feel like they have autonomy and control over the situation. You need to put them in the driver’s seat.

Open-Ended Questions

Voss says you can give your counterpart this feeling of autonomy by asking open-ended “how” or “what” questions.

For example, if you’re confronted with a price that’s too high or an offer that’s unreasonably low, you would respond with a simple, “How am I supposed to do that?” According to Voss, the key strategic benefit of open-ended questions is that they put your counterpart to work helping you. When you ask an open-ended “how” or “what” question, you’re putting the other person in a...

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Shortform Introduction

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It, by Chris Voss (with co-writing assistance from Tahl Raz) aims to provide a comprehensive guide to negotiating theory and strategy, giving you the tools you need to negotiate successfully—whether you’re trying to get a raise at your job, buy a car at the right price, re-sign your lease at a reasonable rent, or any of the other everyday situations where we have to use negotiation to get what we want from somebody else.

Voss’s thesis is that good negotiation happens on the emotional level of the brain, not the rational level. He argues that human beings are inherently irrational and impulsive, willing to make decisions with incomplete information and disregard for their own basic material interests—if the decision satisfies a deeper emotional need. Your job as a negotiator, Voss argues, is to practice and display empathy toward your counterpart by understanding her emotions, learning to see the situation from her point of view—and, ultimately, getting her to feel comfortable enough with you to...

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapters 1-3: The Emotional Basis of Negotiation

Voss argues that negotiation triggers fear and anxiety in many people. We worry about getting outmaneuvered by the other side, about not having enough information to make informed decisions, and about deadlines that pressure us into making bad deals. We also think that negotiation is something reserved for high-powered businesspeople and lawyers—not ordinary people like us.

But according to Voss, this is false. Negotiating is something we do every day. In fact, negotiation is taking place whenever you want something from someone else. It can be the major scenarios (buying a car, renting an apartment) but it can also be typical, daily stuff like getting your partner to take out the garbage.

In these chapters, Voss breaks down the mystique around negotiating by highlighting:

  • How people’s emotional need for a feeling of security and autonomy drives most negotiation
  • Tactics to put your counterpart at ease, make them feel safe, and extract crucial information that will put you in a dominant position in the negotiation

Guided by Emotions

Voss’s core thesis of negotiation is that we as human beings are all inherently irrational and impulsive—willing to...

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Shortform Exercise: Practice Calculated Empathy

Answer these questions to learn more about how other people think and feel.


Have someone else’s actions ever seemed perplexing to you because you didn’t know or understand what they really wanted? Describe the situation. In the future, how could you apply some of the tactics you’ve learned to uncover people’s real wants and needs?

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapter 7: Put Them in the Driver’s Seat

Voss’s fundamental theory of negotiation is that people are driven primarily by their emotional needs for safety and autonomy. They want to feel that they’re in good hands with you, and they want to feel like they’re not being manipulated or coerced into something they don’t want to do. Thus, your job in any successful negotiation first and foremost is to get your counterpart to a place where they feel secure and in control.

Up to now, we’ve seen how Voss addresses the “safety and security” part of emotional negotiation through calculated empathy tactics like active listening, tone, reflecting back, labeling, and accusation audits. In this chapter, Voss focuses on autonomy and making your counterpart feel like they’re in the driver’s seat. He explores:

  • How open-ended questions can lead your counterpart to your desired outcome while making them think it’s their idea
  • Why you should avoid asking questions that are framed solely as requests for concrete information
  • How to maintain control of the situation by regulating your own emotions

(Shortform note: We’ve moved Chapter 7 to follow Chapters 1-3 because its discussion of safety and autonomy more naturally...

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapters 4-5: Getting the Right Responses

After you’ve displayed calculated empathy and put your counterpart in a relaxed emotional frame of mind, Voss writes that it’s important to elicit the proper responses from them. In the following chapters, Voss describes which responses you do and don’t want to hear from your counterpart—and the emotional impulses behind even seemingly simple and routine responses like “Yes,” “No,” and “That’s right.”

Voss explores:

  • Why “Yes” is seldom the answer you want to hear from your counterpart
  • Why “No” is actually a positive response from the other person and indicates that they’re feeling comfortable and in control
  • Why “That’s right” is a sign that you’ve made real progress in getting your counterpart to see you as a partner rather than an adversary

The Problem With “Yes”

As Voss writes, much of old-school negotiating strategy is premised on the idea of “getting to yes”—with the titular 1981 book Getting to Yes being the touchstone text of the genre.

He says it’s easy to understand why this makes intuitive sense. Your counterpart saying “Yes” to something you’ve proposed in your negotiation would seem to mean that you’ve reached some sort of agreement or that...

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapter 6: Change Their Perspective

Thus far, Voss has explained how people’s behavior and thoughts in negotiations are primarily driven by their emotional needs for security and autonomy. If you can help them meet those emotional needs using techniques like calculated empathy, summarizing, and open-ended questions, you are in a prime position to get them to divulge their hidden wants and desires—crucial information that will give you the upper hand in a negotiation.

In this chapter, Voss explores the tactics that enable you to properly identify, articulate, and use those hidden desires and irrational blind spots to your advantage. You do this by switching up their perspective—showing them that by helping you achieve your desired solution, they will satisfy their own hidden wants.Specifically, he looks at:

  • How to use time to your advantage by refusing to be boxed in by deadlines
  • How to exploit their notions of fairness and unfairness
  • How to use your counterpart’s cognitive biases like framing effects and and loss aversion to your advantage

Make Deadlines Work

Voss observes that deadlines are one of the most common sources of anxiety in negotiations. **We feel that we will lose out on an...

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Shortform Exercise: Influence People

Think about how you can bring people around to see things your way.


Has someone ever placed deadline pressure on you, which then caused you to make a bad decision? Describe what happened. How could you resist this in the future?

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapter 8: Ensure Implementation

So far, Voss has demonstrated how calculated empathy, reflecting back, labeling, anticipating their accusations, and asking open-ended questions can get your counterpart to feel secure and in control, thereby making them more likely to reveal their true wants and needs—giving you the power to bring them around to your wants and needs by harnessing their cognitive biases against them.

But even after you’ve gotten your counterpart to agree to your terms, there’s still one problem—how can you trust them to follow through? Voss notes that even if you get a “yes,” if there’s no way for your counterpart to actually follow through, this is useless—because “yes” is nothing without “how.”

In this chapter, Voss explores how to move beyond mere agreement and toward implementation. Specifically, he looks at:

  • How open-ended questions can help ensure implementation by playing to your counterpart’s empathy and making them feel they’re helping you solve a problem
  • The speech patterns and non-verbal cues that can signal an unreliable counterpart

Give Your Counterpart Skin in the Game

In this section, we’re going to revisit Voss’s idea of open-ended questions and...

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapter 9: How to Bargain

To effectively employ Voss’s techniques, you need to accurately size up your counterpart so that you can anticipate how they’ll approach you and how you can best respond.

In this chapter, Voss tells you how to take a comprehensive assessment of the person across the table from you by:

  • Exploring the three main types of negotiators
  • Teaching you how to plan your negotiating moves and countermoves based on which negotiating style your counterpart uses
  • Explaining the Ackerman Model, a strategy for use in monetary negotiations

The Three Types of Negotiator

Voss identifies three main types of negotiator:

  • Givers
  • Calculators
  • Aggressives

Voss does not say that any one type is better or more effective than any other. They all can work in different situations. But he does say that whatever you are, you shouldn’t project your style of negotiation onto your counterpart—for example, if you’re an Aggressive, you have to adjust your behavior when you’re dealing with a Giver. Voss sees this as another extension of the empathy that’s at the heart of his approach to negotiation—treat others as they wish to be treated.

Don’t Be a Pushover

...

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Never Split the Difference Summary Never Split the Difference Guide Chapter 10: Unknown Unknowns

We’ve seen Voss stress the primacy of having information. Indeed, he says that at their most fundamental level, all negotiations are exercises in information-gathering.

But some pieces of information are easier to obtain than others. Voss writes that in every negotiation, there is some hidden piece of information that, if it were known, would completely transform the dynamic of the negotiation and the final outcome. He labels these Black Swans—and says that finding them is the last piece of the puzzle to succeed in your negotiation.

In this chapter, Voss explores:

  • The three different types of information—known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns (also called Black Swans)
  • Why Black Swans have the power to transform the negotiating environment
  • How to find your counterpart’s Black Swan and how this hidden information can give you access into how they think and see the world

Types of Information

Voss writes that there are three types of information.

Known Knowns

First, there are known knowns. These are the things we know for sure. In a negotiation, the known knowns are things like **your counterpart’s name, their offer, and the...

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Shortform Exercise: Get Results

Get what you want from your negotiations.


Have you ever wanted to get information from someone, but didn’t know how to ask without seeming too forward? What happened? What open-ended questions could you have asked to get this information in a subtle way?

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Shortform Exercise: Applying the Lessons

Think about the main takeaways from Never Split the Difference.


Which tactic from this summary will be the most helpful for you in future negotiations? Explain your answer.

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Chapters 1-3: The Emotional Basis of Negotiation
  • Exercise: Practice Calculated Empathy
  • Chapter 7: Put Them in the Driver’s Seat
  • Chapters 4-5: Getting the Right Responses
  • Chapter 6: Change Their Perspective
  • Exercise: Influence People
  • Chapter 8: Ensure Implementation
  • Chapter 9: How to Bargain
  • Chapter 10: Unknown Unknowns
  • Exercise: Get Results
  • Exercise: Applying the Lessons