Never Split the Difference

  Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, gives you the tools you need to practice your way into a better life, both professionally and personally. 

            Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, believes that the tactics used in hostage negotiating can be as easily used in the business world. Nevertheless, negotiating tactics can be used in any relationship between human beings, which goes far beyond the business world.

What are we negotiating?        

  Everything in our lives is about negotiating, about selling an image of ourselves, about establishing rapport with the other, whether that other is our spouse, our parents, our children, our friends, or the people who don’t like us very much.

            Without even realizing, our lives revolve around negotiating more than we think. What does negotiating look like through Chris Voss’s eyes?

Well, it’s not about imposing your point of view, but about trying to see the world from the other person’s perspective. Chris Voss calls this tactical empathy.


Tactical Empathy is


Trying to understand the other person’s perspective, see where they are coming from, and try to be emphatic at the same time. Being emphatic does not mean agreeing with them, but simply acknowledging their point of view. Any decent conversation is based on the exact same principle. You need to give the other side the right to talk before voicing your own opinions. You also need to listen in order for you to adjust your thoughts.

Every one of us craves for attention, the need to feel important and recognized.

“Never Split the Difference” leads you to the way of making the other person feel important. It’s not about the illusion of feeling important, it’s not about making false compliments, but about giving the other side the opportunity to voice their concerns, their fears, their worries, their ideas without judgment.

Listening is a crucial element in hostage negotiating. It should be a crucial element in both professional and personal life. This is where the classical salespeople are in the wrong. They seem to be interested in talking, thinking that what they have to offer is exactly what the people need, when in fact, they should only listen. When asked the right questions, people will tell you their needs, their worries, their fears, and their desires. Ask the right question and learn how to listen, how to detect the tone of voice, body language, facial expressions. Your counterpart will guide you to where you need to go in order for you to respond. That is the reason why hostage negotiation is a team effort. One person watches the tone, while another listens to subtleties. They all play a part in getting a clearer picture of the message or the lack of the message.


Are there some special tools we can use?

We could use labels, mirrors, calibrated questions, and summaries.


Is a communication technique in which you make a verbal observation of an emotion displayed, verbalized, or implied. You can start with:

  • It sounds like
  • It feels like
  • It seems like

I’ve been teaching basketball to underprivileged children. These are children, whose parents have left them or are in prison and they have no role model to guide them in life. I’ve been able to help them go through some hard times and used basketball to create a safe environment to share and help each other.

Label: It sounds like you there’s more to this.


Mirroring or repeating


Repeating the last three to five words the other side just said in order to extract more information from them.

For example:

I want to tell you something about mirrors.

Mirroring: Mirrors?

Yes, mirrors mean repeating the last three words of your counterpart’s statement.

Calibrated questions:

What, How, and only sometimes Why.

For example “I’m too busy”

Although you know they’re not, you cannot say that, so, instead you might want to say: What makes you say that.

Another example would be:

I want you to give me the rest of your toys!

How am I supposed to do that?



Are a great way to recap for the other side the dynamics, the circumstances, and the conversation so completely that they respond with: “that’s right!”. It gets the other side to say: “that’s right!”. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to approve of what the other people are feeling, saying, or doing. It’s about recognizing that they have been heard. Here Chris Voss gives us a negotiation example in the Philippines where the kidnappers went from 10 million dollars to zero. The negotiator didn’t give any opinion, but he made a summary of the reasons for which the negotiator was asking the money. He demanded war money. The idea is: if you’re not laying it on thick, you’re not laying it on thick enough.

Let people feel they are in control. It doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in a vulnerable situation. It just means not letting your emotions get the better of you. Whenever you feel like lashing out or using words you might end up regretting, it’s better to take a step back. The moment you lose your cool, in any situation, you give control to the other person, and that’s not something you want to do.

Robert Cialdini, in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” seems very keen on pointing out that it’s easy to get a person to say “yes” once they are in an approval condition. The idea is to get them to agree to something in increments, by starting out small and moving to bigger things. Even if we obtain a yes, people seem reluctant afterward and wonder about the legitimacy of the approval.

Chris Voss doesn’t deny the importance of obtaining a “yes”. The process, in this case, is much longer and uncertain.  There have been many times when we are duped into saying yes and feel trapped once we did. This explains why some deals fall through and are being looked over after the partner had originally agreed to the contract.


Be aware of “yes” and try to get a “no”


The moment a person commits to something, by saying yes, he or she starts wondering if committing to yes was, in fact, a good idea. Stress and doubt start playing a huge role. That’s the reason why, when people agree to something, they change their minds. Being pressured into saying yes, they turn to analysis and find out that yes is not in their best interest.

The moment you say “no”, you protect yourself. You realize you have committed to nothing and you are free and relaxed to truly start hearing what the other person is talking about.

A key point worthy of notice is pointing out the negatives. People feel that emphasizing the positives in any situation means to enhance them. If we were to follow that logic, we might be tempted to think that, by pointing out the negatives, we might enhance them. In this case, the tendency would be to defer from them, in other words simply ignoring the elephant in the room, sort of speak, hoping, that, if we don’t mention it, it will go away.

Chris Voss tells us that by pointing out the negatives means defusing them. People seem to be afraid of pointing out the negative side of a situation thinking they don’t want the other side to be concentrating on the negative aspects when it’s exactly what we should be doing.

Calling out the elephant in the room, gives everyone involved a chance to start on the same level of discussion. There’s no need to ignore it. It’s there and it’s on everyone’s minds and ignoring it won’t make it go away. Don’t be afraid to defuse the negative by pointing it out. It relaxed the situation and gives people the chance to start over.

There are some key elements to take away from the book, but the process of becoming a good negotiator in business and personal life is to practice. Your lesson hasn’t finished the moment you finish reading the book, but it’s only the beginning.

What’s important to remember is that, as in every new skill that we develop, it all starts with mastering the basics. As Bruce Lee once said: “I am not afraid of a person, who has practiced one thousand moves one time, but of the person, who has practiced the same move a thousand times”.

Reading a book will not make you a good negotiator, but practicing some key elements, constantly, can get you further.

Start practicing labels, mirrors, calibrated questions, and summaries over and over again until you get good at it. As Chris says: 63 times to start building a new neurological pattern. Once you start mastering the basics, go further. 



“Never Split the Difference” is one of the books you’ll want to keep close and come back to every chance you get.

One reading is not enough to grasp the insightful pieces of advice given. Remember: building new neurological patterns takes time and taking the time to be better at your new way of approaching life’s situations than reading the principles and practicing every chance you get?!

Read, take notes even, think about the ideas, get them in practice, and adjust them as you go along. Take what suits you, what you tested, practice, expand, and start over. It’s an ongoing process, much like life, and only practice gets you further.


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