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  • Writer's pictureMark Walmsley

Never Split the Difference Summary

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Never Split the Difference Book Cover

Sometimes splitting the difference – or simple compromise – is a good idea; other times it has you wearing one black and one brown shoe, or paying the kidnappers $0.5M to get half of your kid back. Never Split the Difference tells you how to act in those situations where compromise yields a bad deal. Key insights:

  1. Compromise is not the best outcome in every negotiation

  2. Learn to manage conversational emotionality by using playful, assertive, and late-night DJ voices

  3. Use the mirror phrase ‘I’m sorry…’ then repeat their last 2-4 key words to encourage them to keep talking and reveal more information

  4. Build rapport by labelling their emotional state – ‘It seems you’ve had a long day…’

  5. Get them solving your problems by asking how and what questions – ‘How am I supposed to get my boss to agree to your offer?’

  6. Get them bidding against themselves by saying no without using the word ‘no’ – ‘I’m sorry that offer just doesn’t work for me’

  7. Trigger a no response to put them in ‘control’ – use ‘is now a bad time to talk?’, answer is no; rather than ‘is now a good time to talk?’, answer is yes

  8. Use ‘have you given up on this ___?’ to restart stalled negotiations

  9. Pivot to non-price extras if being pushed too hard on price

  10. For fun ask for the ‘Chris discount’ – smile, use your playful voice, and ask if they have any other special discounts for ‘[yourname]?’

Book details

Full title: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it. By Chris Voss and Tahl Raz.

Length: 288 pages, or 8 hours and 7 mins on Audible

Buy the book (USA): Amazon (book, Kindle, Audible)

Buy the book (AUS): Amazon (book, Kindle, Audible), Booktopia (book, eBook, audio-book)

Introduction to Never Split the Difference

This is a book about negotiation where the intent is not to split the difference. What does this mean? Say Jill wants to sell his car and would like $6,000 but would take $4,000. Jack wants to buy the car and wants to pay only $3,000 but would pay a maximum of $5,000. Jack and Jill’s situation is shown below.


You can see from above the range of prices Jack and Jill could agree on is between $4,000 and $5,000 – the so called ‘negotiating arena’. A reasonable price might be $4,500 right? According to Chris Voss – wrong!!

Say you’re going out to dinner and you want to wear the black shoes, but your partner wants you to wear the brown shoes. The reasonable solution – splitting the difference – is to wear one black and one brown shoe…right? What about a hostage negotiation where the kidnappers want $1million dollars or your kid gets it. So we settle and pay half the price - $500k, for half the kid…right?

Both these examples are silly; but often in life so too is the idea of a negotiating arena and splitting the difference. There are times when splitting the difference isn’t win-win, it’s wimp-win – and you’re the wimp. This book is about how Jack buys the car for $3,500, Jill sells it for $5,500, how you wear black shoes out (your favorite), and you get your kid back from the kidnapers in one piece for $5,973.29 – yes that exact figure!

Key insight 1: Manage conversation emotionality – voice, mirrors, labels, and silence

This is a collector insight picking up a few techniques from the book related to managing emotionality during the negotiation with the overall goal of discovering what your counterpart actually needs and having them feel safe enough to reveal it. While also revealing information useful to you…

Three voice types. There are three general voices you can use in negotiations:

  • Positive/playful voice: This is the voice of an easy going, good nature person, light and encouraging. Relax and smile as your while talking. This is the default voice for most of the negotiation.

  • Late night radio DJ voice: This is the somber serious voice of the radio DJ. It’s calm and slow, with tone Inflected downward at sentence end. It creates an aura of trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness. Use selectively to make a key point or seek more information.

  • Direct/assertive voice: This is the no-BS, take-no-prisoners voice, delivered with body language to match. It will result in counterpart defensiveness, create pushback, and negotiation problems. Used very rarely.

Using mirrors to reveal. Mirrors encourage your counterpart to keep talking and reveal more information. Repeat the last 2-4 words of their sentence in your DJ voice starting with “I’m sorry…”.


Great reveal – a repossessed car from an unemployed person likely hasn’t have all the maintenance completed on it, and the dealer got if for cheap. That information can help you purchase the car at $3,000. The silence bit will be easy for introverts; the extroverts out there will need to work on this.

Build rapport through labels. Labelling is a way to increase rapport by demonstrating you understand your counterpart’s emotional state; whilst also understanding what is driving those emotions and thereby increasing your negotiating leverage. This is achieved by paying close attention to people tone, speech content, and body language; then giving the emotional state a label with a sentence starting with “It seems like …”, “It sounds like …”, or “It looks like …”. Your counterpart will usually give a longer answer (i.e. not a yes/no answer).

Table Chart

What follows from your counterpart can be more useful information. And if you get the label wrong and they disagree, you can step away from your prior comment by saying “…I just said it seems like …”.

Key insight 2: Reverse negotiations with calibrated questions – how and what questions

Getting them to solve your problem. Calibrated questions work by encouraging your counterpart to solve your ‘problems’. Perhaps you have a client who hasn’t paid months of prior invoices but is asking for more work to be done. You respond with mother of all calibrated questions – “How am I supposed to do that?” The counterpart is now trying to solve your cashflow problem.

Calibrated ‘what’ questions are used to reveal more information. Perhaps your negotiating a service offering to a client (marketing, training, cleaning, …) and you’re bogged in details. You ask a calibrated what question like “What about this service is most important to you?” As above your counterpart is engaged in solving your problem – which is understanding your potential clients real needs so you can tailor your sales approach to him in the best (more profitable) way. Here are other great calibrated questions Chris uses in almost every negotiation:

  • “How can I make this deal better for us?”

  • “How would you like me to proceed?”

  • “How can we solve this problem?”

  • “How will we know when we’ve succeeded?” or “What does success look like?”

  • “What are we trying to accomplish with this deal?”

  • “What is it that brought us into this situation?”

  • “What makes you ask that question?”

  • “What would you do if we don’t make a deal?”

Beware why questions. A final cautionary note on calibrated questions. Almost never use ‘why’ questions. In every language and culture they are perceived as aggressive and inflammatory. The only exception is the reverse why question in your favor which goes like “Why would you consider changing from your current provider to my company?” As above, your counterpart is engaged in telling you why he thinks your company is better than your competitors, useful information for you to use in closing the deal.

Key insight 3: Using ‘no’ to drive a great deal – getting your counterpart to bid against themselves

Bidding against yourself is a concept where someone nominates a price (or contract condition) and then lowers that price without the other person offering a price. So they might say “I’d like $6,000 for the car”. You say “Your offer is very generous, but that just doesn’t work for me”. And they say “Would you take $5,000?” They have lowered their price without you having revealed your target price, which means a) $6,000 was just an opening price, and b) they can likely go lower still.

Chris recommends saying ‘no’ to an offer actually saying the word ‘no’. He does this by using a calibrated ‘how’ or ‘what’ question, then saying ‘no’ without saying ‘no’. This mischievous sequence of answers in response to unreasonable demands looks like:


Bonus key insight 4: The Ackerman Model – get the price you want

The Ackerman Model is an offer/counter-offer model based on your target price in four steps with a 20%, 10%, and 5% change at each step. For the buyer this looks like 65% of target, then 85%, 95%, and finally 100%. For the seller it goes 135%, then 115%, 105%, and finally 100%. You would combine this pricing system with the system of saying no without using no above.

Last point, always have your final number as a very precise and comprises odd numbers which is an old marketing mind trick. Consider the car example above with your target buy price of $4,000.


And we have a deal at $3,987…

Other insights from Never Split the Difference

5. Trigger a ‘no’ response. No responses provide the illusion of control. If you’re doing telephone sales don’t open with ‘is now a good time to talk?’ for which you seek a yes answer. Use ‘is now a bad time to talk?’ for which you seek a ‘no’ answer. The customer feels more in control after stating ‘no’ than responding with a half-hearted ‘yes’.

6. Restart negotiations with “Have you given up on this project”. If you client has gone silent/cold on a deal, email them with a version of this question which leverages the ‘no’ response above.

7. Pivot away from price if being pushed too hard. If your counterpart is driving hard on price, then pivot to non-monetary factors like payment terms, warranty, or service extras.

8. Deflect counterpart hostility or extreme demands with how/what questions. Chris’ favorites are “How am I supposed to do that?”, or “What are we trying to achieve here?”

9. The ‘Chris’ discount – use your name for fun and to close. When you’re close to a deal, ask if they offer any ‘Chris’ discounts. If you’ve used your fun/playful persona throughout and build rapport with your counterpart you’ll be surprised the reaction you get.

10. Look for Black Swans. Understand that your counterpart is hiding information that could materially impact their position. In the example above it was that the car’s most recently repossessed from an unemployed owner. Be hyper-vigilant and inquisitive to try reveal these black swans. Chris believes every negotiation has three of them.

Why you should read this book if you’re under 30

Some negotiation is best done through compromise and splitting the difference – perhaps with your partner, family, or friends.

But in professional negotiation this is often not the case. Chris Voss book Never Split the Difference is a compelling treatise on how to get the best deal in these situations.

Relationship to other Eruditeable books

#7 – Emotional Agility. This book can help with distancing oneself from the more heated and emotionally confronting aspects of negotiation.

#15 – 50 Etiquette lessons. This book can help with building rapport by having the best manners and following established business and personal behavioral norms.

#16 – The Personal MBA. This book is a generalist treatise on all things business, which includes aspects of negotiation.

#17 – Crucial Conversations. This book complements Never Split the Difference by providing tools for talking when stakes are high.

#19 – Gifts Differing. This book can help by understanding the different personality types, enabling you to better mirror in tone, content, and body language. It will also help the extrovert understand the importance of silence in negotiations.

#20 – Influence. This book introduces the six key marketing techniques so you can avoid them, or leverage them as appropriate.

Book resources

About the author

Chris Voss is an American businessman, author, and academic. Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, the CEO of The Black Swan Group Ltd. He earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University and Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Voss was a member of the New York City Joint Terrorism Task Force from 1986 to 2000. In 1992, he received hostage negotiation training at the FBI Academy. He spent 24 years working in the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit and was the FBI's chief international hostage and kidnapping negotiator from 2003 to 2007. In 2006, he was the lead negotiator on the Jill Carroll case in Iraq as well the Steve Centanni case in the Gaza Strip. Voss supervised additional hostage cases in the Philippines, Colombia and Haiti.

After working on more than 150 international hostage cases, he retired from the FBI in 2007 and founded The Black Swan Group. He became an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and a lecturer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Voss was given the Attorney General's Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement as well as the FBI Agents Association Award for Distinguished and Exemplary Service. Voss is a regular commentator on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and NPR. He has also been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, Inc., Variety, and Time.

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