Never Split the Difference Book Summary PDF

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss [Book Summary & PDF]

Life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you the competitive edge in any discussion. Written by a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI, this book and summary offers a new, field-tested approach to negotiations, whether in business, in your personal life, or at home.





Who is this book for?

This brilliant book is written for every human out there – whether we like it or not, we all need to negotiate in our lives, from buying a new car, negotiating our salary, buying a home, to re-negotiating our rent, or deliberating with our partner!

About the author

A 24 year veteran of the FBI, Chris Voss is one of the preeminent practitioners and professors of negotiating skills in the world. He is the founder and principal of The Black Swan Group, a consulting firm that provides training and advises Fortune 500 companies through complex negotiations. Voss has taught for many business schools, including the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, Harvard University, MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, among others.

In this summary

Life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you the competitive edge in any discussion. Written by a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI, this book and summary offers a new, field-tested approach to negotiations, whether in business, in your personal life, or at home. Let’s explore its principles!



“I just ask the same three or four open-ended questions over and over and over and over. They get worn out answering and give me everything I want.”

That’s how the author becomes the smartest dumb guy in any room. Early in his career he realised that we’re not the perfect rational beings; without understanding the human psychology and accepting that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotional animals, raw intelligence, rational arguments, and mathematical logic would not help in real-life negotiations.

People want to be understood and accepted. The most effective way to get there is by listening intensely. This concept, called ‘Tactical Empathy’, is the centrepiece of this book.

“Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from – and with – other people.”

The first step towards mastery of negotiation skills is to get over your aversion to negotiating. After all, negotiation is nothing more than communication with results.

“Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from - and with - other people.”Click To Tweet

Let’s explore the 9 principles of the book!


Negotiation is not a battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal of a great negotiator is to uncover as much information as possible.

That’s why you shouldn’t commit to your initial assumptions. Instead, treat them merely as hypotheses and use the negotiation to learn more and test them.

We all get overwhelmed in an information-rich negotiation. To avoid this scenario, slow it down and focus immensely on the other person and what they have to say. This way, the other person will feel they’re being heard, building rapport and trust.

When it’s your turn to lead the conversation, use a different type of voice tone to get your message across:

  1. The late-night FM DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow. When done properly, you create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness.
  2. The positive/playful voice: Should be your default voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking.
  3. The direct or assertive voice: Use this voice rarely, because it will cause defensiveness and create pushback.

Finally, literally mirror the other person by repeating their last three words of what they’ve just said.

Why? Because we fear what’s different and love what’s similar. Mirroring is the subtle art of insinuating similarity, which leads to bonding.

By using the mirroring technique, you can encourage the other side to empathise with you, to keep talking, and to encourage them to reveal their strategy or more information.


Remember: you’re dealing with a person who wants to be appreciated and understood. Imagine yourself in your counterpart’s situation, no matter whether you agree with the their ideas or not, and acknowledge it.

Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Detect the other person’s emotional state, give a name to their emotion, and show you identify with how they feel in a neutral expression:

“It seems like…” “It sounds like…” “It looks like…”

Then, pause. Once you’ve thrown out a label, be quiet and listen. Labeling will convey that you are listening, and they will feel secure (and may even tell you something that you can use later in the negotiation). More often than not, however, you and your counterpart will disagree.

Focus first on clearing any barriers to agreement; denying barriers makes them even more real. Not resolving a disagreement will often make the deal fall apart.

That’s why labeling your counterpart’s fears or negative emotions can diffuse their power. The faster we interrupt their fear kicking in, the faster we can generate feelings of safety, well-being, and trust.

The best method to get fear out of the way is by performing an ‘accusation audit’: list the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. This acknowledges any negative dynamics before they take root. These ‘accusations’ will often sound exaggerated when said aloud, and this way the other person will often claim that quite the opposite is true.


We love hearing “yes”. However, remember the last time a telemarketer pushed you towards agreeing, so they can get your compliance (and sell you the product)?

Although “yes” is the final goal of a negotiation, pushing for “yes” too early makes people defensive (ie. asking “do you like to drink water, Mr. Smith?” when you sell tap water filters will likely paint you as an untrustworthy salesperson).

There are three kinds of “Yes” (guess which one you should be seeking):

  1. Counterfeit: Your counterpart wants to say “no”, but feels “yes” is an easier escape route.
    1. Confirmation: A reflexive response to a black-or-white question.
    2. Commitment: A true agreement that leads to action, a “yes” at the table that ends with a signature on the contract.

On the other hand, “no” is not a sign of rejection. It really often just means “Wait” or “I’m not comfortable with that”. Learn how to take “no” calmly; it’s only the beginning of a negotiation and it reveals the opposition’s true needs and intentions.

Saying “no” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control: by saying what they don’t want, your counterpart defines their space and gains the confidence and comfort to listen to you. That’s why “Is now a bad time to talk?” is always better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

Actually, sometimes the only way to get your counterpart to listen and engage with you is by forcing them into a “no” (intentionally mislabeling one of their emotions or asking a ridiculous question – “It seems like you want this project to fail” – that can only be answered negatively.)

If a potential business partner is ignoring you, contact them with a clear and concise “no”-oriented question that suggests that you are ready to walk away.

“Have you given up on this project?” works wonders.


You seek real understanding between you and your counterpart.

This is the moment you’ve convinced someone that you truly understand their dreams and feelings, you’re laying the foundation of true behavioural and mental change for them.

The two words you seek are: “that’s right.”

Once the counterpart says (or thinks) those words, they’ve truly understood and embraced what you’ve said as the(ir) reality. To them, it’s a subtle epiphany. (Beware: “you’re right” is the exact opposite and brings no behavioural change. It’s usually just another counterfeit “yes”.)

To trigger a “that’s right” moment:

  1. Pause and listen actively (sketched in chapter 2).
  2. Use minimal encouragers, such as “Yes,” “OK,” “Uh-huh,” or “I see”.
  3. Mirror (listen and repeat back what they’ve said).
  4. Label their feelings (chapter 3), ie. “It all seems so tragically unfair, I can now see why you sound so angry.”
  5. Paraphrase what they’ve said in your own words, showing you aren’t merely parroting the other person.
  6. Finally, summarise. Rearticulate the meaning of what is said and label the underlying emotions. In other words, repeat back the “world according to your counterpart.” Anyone faced with a good summary will respond “that’s right.”


We are emotional, irrational beasts in predictable, pattern-filled ways. Whether we are aware of it, all of our negotiations are defined by a network of underlying desires, needs, and fears.

For instance, people will take more risks to avoid a loss than to attain a gain. Figure out what they’d hate losing and make sure they see it’s at stake during the negotiation.

Once you uncover their real motivations, needs, and emotions driving the need for a negotiation, you’re miles ahead.

That’s why aiming by default to split the difference in any negotiation often leads to bad deals for both sides: it’s like wearing one black and one brown shoe (because you wanted black and your partner insisted brown).

First uncover the counterpart’s reality, then strategise.

For example, is the deadline they project a real one? Find out and plan accordingly. Usually people rush the negotiating process as they approach a deadline and do impulsive things that are against their best interests. If the deadline is an imaginary one (as most of the time), buy more time and watch.

Another way to put the other side on the defensive and gain concessions is by using the F-bomb – the word “fair”. Likewise, when your counterpart drops the F-bomb, don’t get defensive. Tell them “let’s go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it.”

A brilliant way to bend your counterpart’s reality in a negotiation:

  1. Before making your offer, prepare them by saying how bad it will be.
  2. Let them go first, and you might get lucky with a lower offer than what you were preparing.
  3. If you set the numbers, set an extreme anchor to make your “real” offer seem reasonable, or use a range to seem less aggressive.
  4. Finally, when you do talk exact numbers, use odd ones. $37.263 feels like a figure that you came to as a result of thoughtful calculation.




The person listening has control in a conversation, not the person talking

That’s because the talker is revealing information while the listener is directing the conversation toward their own goals.

When listening, avoid questions that can be answered with “Yes” or tiny pieces of information.

Instead, ask calibrated (or open-ended) questions that start with the words “How” or “What.” By implicitly asking the other party for help, these questions will give your counterpart an illusion of control and will inspire them to speak at length, revealing important information.

“How am I supposed to do that?” is the greatest-of-all-time calibrated question suggested by the author. Other suggestions:

  • 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’s the objective? / What are we trying to accomplish here?

The beauty of calibrated questions? They educate your counterpart on what the problem is, rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is. Even when you’re attacked in a negotiation, pause and avoid angry emotional reactions, and ask your counterpart a calibrated question.

Calibrated questions point your counterpart toward solving your problem. This encourages them to expend their energy on devising a solution for you.

Finally, don’t ask questions that start with “why”; it’s almost always an accusation, in any language.


“Yes” is nothing without “How.” Asking “How,” knowing “How,” and defining “How” is a must for every negotiation.

A few powerful examples:

  • Ask again and again calibrated “How” questions; they keep your counterparts engaged but off balance. Answering the questions will give them the illusion of control. It will also lead them to contemplate – or even empathise with – your problems when making their demands.
  • Use “How can I do that?” as a gentle version of “No.” This will subtly push your counterpart to search for other solutions – your solutions. And very often it will get them to bid against themselves.
  • Remember, there’s always people “behind the curtains” affected by the negotiation, except for the people you’re negotiating directly with. Ask “How” a deal will affect everybody else and “How” on board they are.

To guarantee execution and test if the “Yes” is real or counterfeit, apply the Rule of Three: use calibrated questions, summaries, and labels to get your counterpart to reaffirm their agreement at least three times. It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction.

Finally, to understand if the counterpart is uncomfortable with the deal you’ve just agreed on, follow the 7-38-55 Percent Rule (“only 7% of a message is based on the words while 38% comes from the tone of voice and 55% from the speaker’s body language and face”). By paying close attention to their tone of voice and body language, you might discover incongruence between their words and nonverbal signs that show that they’re masking their true thoughts – which might lead to an unexecuted deal.


Top negotiators know that conflict is often the path to great deals. Conflict brings out truth, creativity, and resolution.

First of all, identify your counterpart’s negotiating style and you’ll know the correct way to approach them:

  1. Accommodator: As long as they’re communicating, they’re happy. Their goal is to be on great terms with their counterpart.
  2. Assertive: Every wasted minute is a wasted dollar. For them, getting the solution perfect isn’t as important as getting it done.
  3. Analyst: They are methodical and diligent. Their self-image is linked to minimising mistakes. They take as much time as it takes to get it right.

To bargain on the negotiation table, you need to prepare: design an ambitious but realistic goal, game out the labels, calibrated questions, and responses you’ll use to get there. Likewise, get ready to take a punch if the opposing negotiator leads with an extreme anchor to knock you off balance.

Most importantly, have fun with it, set your boundaries, and don’t get angry. The guy across the table is not the problem; the situation is.

The Ackerman Plan will help you get what you need from a bargain:

  1. Set your target price (your goal).
  2. Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  3. Calculate three counter-offers at 85, 95, and 100 percent.
  4. Use empathy, calibrated questions, and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you make your counter-offer.
  5. When calculating the final amount, use precise, non-round numbers that make it look like they’ve been thoughtfully calculated.
  6. On your final number, throw in a non-monetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.


Finding the Black Swans – the powerful unknown unknowns – is difficult. We don’t know what the treasure is, so we don’t know where to dig.

Once uncovered, Black Swans are leverage multipliers.

To uncover a Black Swan, review everything you hear from your counterpart. You will not hear everything the first time, so double-check. Compare notes with team members. Use backup listeners whose job is to listen between the lines. They will hear things you miss.

Sometimes your counterpart might not even know how important the information is, or that they shouldn’t reveal it. Keep pushing, probing, and gathering information.

Dig into the counterpart’s worldviews, their life, and emotional situation – that’s where Black Swans live.

When someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t. It might be a Black Swan in disguise. Search for hidden constraints, underlying desires, and bad information.

Needless to say, you need to get face time with your counterpart to analyse their verbal and nonverbal communication at unguarded moments.




Key takeaways

  • Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from – and with – other people.
  • Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which leads to bonding.
  • Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it.
  • “No” starts a negotiation; it reveals a person’s true needs and intentions.
  • Once the counterpart says “that’s right”, they’ve truly embraced what you’ve said as the(ir) reality.
  • Calibrated questions make your counterpart solve your problem.
  • Finding the Black Swans – the powerful unknown unknowns – is difficult; once uncovered, they are leverage multipliers.

Further reading

How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie. As relevant as ever before, Dale Carnegie's principles endure, and will help you achieve your maximum potential in the complex and competitive modern age.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi is a guide to establishing and managing some of the most important relationships in your business life. These relationships can be used to open up new doors and opportunities, achieve great success and reach your goals. Ferrazzi emphasises the importance of networking, meeting new people and reaching out to people beyond your usual social circle.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action Steps

  1. Find out your negotiator type:
  2. Study the ‘Prepare a Negotiation One-Sheet’.
  3. Get yourself into real-life negotiations to further hone your skills.
  4. Download the complete book on Amazon.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.

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