Book cover art for Never Split the Difference
Never Split the Difference
Chris Voss

Useful and detailed insight into negotiation techniques that work in the real world instead of inaccurate, academic methods. Also pretty thrilling because the chapters open and are riddled with compelling descriptions of real-world hostage/kidnap negotiations that Voss was involved with.

'A hostage negotiator plays a unique role: he has to win. Can he say to a bank robber, "Okay, you've taken four hostages. Let's split the difference-give me two, and we'll call it a day?"'

The New Rules of Negotiation

In negotiating, it's important to understand—above all else—that we are not rational creatures. We are inherently emotional. Yet we still negotiate on what we think is a rational basis.

'The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want.'

Kahneman and Tversky, in their book 'Thinking, Fast & Slow', identified that we operate using two distinct systems: System 1 is the brain's fast, intuitive response while System 2 is the brain's slower, rational response. We think we mostly think with system 2, but it's inherently influenced by system 1.

It's for these reasons that simple listening and empathy prove to be far more effective than any kind of 'smart' rational bargaining ever could be.

Negotiation is primarily about gathering information and influencing behaviour. We are looking for communications with results.

'I realized that without a deep understanding of human psychology, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.'

Slow Down to Gather Information and Build Hypotheses

Assumptions blind, hypotheses guide. New information allows us to iterate improved hypotheses. That's why, at the beginning, you need to find out as much as you can.

Focus purely on listening, actively, to what they are saying. There's too many other things going on and that you might otherwise miss. So listen. Intently.

Slow things down. Time improves every negotiation.

'The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise) and get them feeling safe enough to talk and talk and talk some more about what they want. The latter will help you discover the former.'

Be careful about how you come across:

  • Voice (can flip an emotional switch)
  • Tone
  • Demeanour

'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 and resist). It applies to the smile-er as much as to the smile-ee: a smile on your face, and in your voice, will increase your own mental agility.'

Be a Mirror & Use the Right Voice

'By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.'

Mirroring—also called isopraxism—is essentially imitation. We fear what's different and are drawn to what's similar. When we repeat what others say, we insinuate similarity with them and gain their trust.

Use different voice styles to do different things. There are essentially three main types that Voss identifies:

  • 'Late Night FM DJ': to calm and assert, confident, lower register
  • Positive and upbeat, playful: the go-to for most situations
  • Assertive: aggressive and direct, should be used only rarely because it can be a bit of a slap in the face, which isn't ideal

Silence, even a few seconds of it, can be hugely effective in allowed the mirroring to work. 'I'm sorry' is effective, too.

This is essentially all about rapport and human emotion (without searching for the need to comment on certain things/stab in the dark on where a connection might be).

You Can't Feel Their Pain. Better to Label It, Instead.

'Empathy is a classic "soft" communication skill, but it has a physical basis. When we closely observe a person's face, gestures, and tone of voice, our brain begins to align with theirs in a process called neural resonance, and that lets us know more fully what they think and feel.'

Empathy is not sympathy but understanding their perspective and rationale behind what they do. We do this to understand what's behind all of that so you can increase your influence in the time that follows.

Tactical empathy is how you win the war without fighting. You pay close attention to the other party, ask what they are feeling and make a commitment to understanding their world in that moment.

Labelling is the tactic of spotting someone's emotions, turning them into words, and playing them back to them.

Make sure to pay attention to their words, music and dance. These are our hints at what their emotional state is.

This is how you label. You say:

  • It seems like...
  • It sounds like...
  • It looks like...

...and describe their emotional state or the state of affairs directly after that.

It's better to handle anger, stress,  or any other negative emotional things head on. Disarm these emotions or 'take the sting out of them' at the very least with an accusation audit.

What are all the possible ways in which they might be able to level something at you, think you're a bastard, or believe you're going to wrong them, or have done so already? Get it all out into the open so they feel heard or so they can disagree with those things in their own voice.

'Try this the next time you have to apologize for a bone-headed mistake. Go right at it. The fastest and most efficient means of establishing a quick working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and diffuse it. ...  I've found the phrase "Look, I'm an asshole" to be an amazingly effective way to make problems go away. That approach has never failed me.'

'No' is Often Far Better than 'Yes'

A negotiation with plenty of room for a good 'no' is a better negotiation.

'"No" is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. We've been conditioned to fear the word "No." But it is a statement of perception far more often than of fact. It seldom means, "I have considered all the facts and made a rational choice." Instead, "No" is often a decision, frequently temporary, to maintain the status quo. Change is scary, and "No" provides a little protection from that scariness.'

There are 3 types of 'yes':

  • Counterfeit - saying yes a means of escape when really it's a no (anything to get you off their back)
  • Confirmation - simple affirmation but with no real promise of action
  • Commitment - the real deal, the contract

We can't influence people with compromise, logic or force. We can inhabit their world to see and hear exactly what they want.

Don't gun for a 'yes' straight off the bat. It can make them wary and defensive. Instead, go for a no. This gives them a sense of control.

There is then a relationship in which they feel autonomy. It opens the discussion up, gives you options and opportunities.

'Today, I coach my students to learn to see "No" for what it is. Rather than harming them or those they negotiate with, "No" protects and benefits all parties in an exchange. "No" creates safety, security, and the feeling of control. It's a requirement to implementable success. It's a pause, a nudge, and a chance for the speaker to articulate what they do want.'

If somebody is obviously not listening to you, you can mislabel a feeling of theirs to get them to say 'No!' or list the things they don't want.

That's Right

Hearing 'that's right' is a good thing. It's not 'yes', it's not 'no' either. It signals that you've broken through to their real emotional drivers and have disarmed them slightly.

'The "that's right" breakthrough usually doesn't come at the beginning of a negotiation. It's invisible to the counterpart when it occurs, and they embrace what you've said. To them, it's a subtle epiphany.'

Summarise, label, actively listen, paraphrase... get them to 'that's right' first, before anything else.

'Use a summary to trigger a “that's right." The building blocks of a good summary are a label combined with paraphrasing, Identify, rearticulate, and emotionally affirm “the world according to..."'

Aside from anything else, it helps build positive regard by showing you understand.

Bend Their Reality

Compromises suck. It's much better to get what you want.

'I'm here to call bullshit on compromise right now. We don't compromise because it's right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face. We compromise in order to say that at least we got half the pie. Distilled to its essence, we compromise to be safe. Most people in a negotiation are driven by fear or by the desire to avoid pain. Too few are driven by their actual goals.'

Deadlines are almost always arbitrary and totally made up. They don't really mean anything, either. But when we tell others what they are, we often get better results in a negotiation.

None of us are 'rational actors'. We make illogical, emotional decisions all the time. This is why we have to understand emotions.

Ways to bend their reality:

  1. Anchor their emotions - instead of painting a picture of what they're losing or not gaining, tell them what they're not losing. He uses an example of someone's pay being cut from $2k to $500 a day, he starts out by completely lowering their expectations and painting himself as the worst, then  angles from the position of instead of everything being lost, they've won $500.
  2. Let them go first (most of the time) - their offer might surprise you and better than you had hoped. If they do the anchoring, some of the work is done for you.
  3. Create a range - 'bolstering' helps you bring numbers higher. Looking for 300? Give a range of 300 to 1200, etc.
  4. Go non-monetary - what else can you offer that is easy for them and very valuable to you?
  5. Use weird numbers - psychologically speaking, '40' or '100' feels more moveable than 37.62. The latter feels more calibrated and difficult to change, perhaps because it seems exactly calculated.
  6. Surprise them with a gift - outside of the direct negotiation, give them something that helps them. Activates the sense of reciprocity—one good turn deserves another.

Ask Calibrated Questions

'Like the softening words and phrases "perhaps," "maybe," "I think," and "it seems," the calibrated open-ended question takes the aggression out of a confrontational statement or close-ended request that might otherwise anger your counterpart.'

Done well, they may consider things and take on suggestions while also saving face. they are subject to interpretation which allows you to introduce ideas.

Don't use can/is/are/do/does. Instead, use who/what/where/when/why/how. The best to use are what and how. 'Why' sometimes helps, and the others are more informational.

Examples of calibrated questions:

  • 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?
  • How am I supposed to do that?

(Don't) Tell Them That It's (Not) Fair

'Fair' is an extremely loaded word that can rile and rattle, or get someone to do something they otherwise wouldn't have.

Here are three uses of that word:

  1. 'We just want what's fair' - an implicit accusation that the other party is stiffing the speaker here
  2. 'We've given you a fair offer' - implicit accusation that the other party is being unreasonable or dishonest.
  3. 'I want you to feel fairly treated' - sets you up as an honest negotiator, let's them start to use the word, too.

'By far the best theory for describing the principles of our irrational decisions is something called Prospect Theory. Created in 1979 by the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, prospect theory describes how people choose between options that involve risk, like in a negotiation. The theory argues that people are drawn to sure things over probabilities, even when the probability is a better choice. That's called the Certainty Effect. And people will take greater risks to avoid losses than to achieve gains. That's called Loss Aversion.'

Guarantee Execution

'When implementation happens by committee, the support of that committee is key. You always have to identify and unearth their motivations, even if you haven't yet identified each individual on that committee.'

You have to be able to execute your side of the bargain and to make sure that they do the same.

You are rarely ever negotiating with just one person. You are having to influence the people around them, also. First, you need to make sure you know who they are.

'That can be easy as asking a few calibrated questions, like "How does this affect the rest of your team?" or "How on board are the people not on this call?" or simply "What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?"'

Subtle Communication Tactics

7-38-55 - words-tone-body language/face. Make sure they all match up. If they don't something's amiss.

Rule of 3 - this is all about finding a way to get your counterpart to agree to something three times while you're negotiating with them. Such as a basic 'yes', a 'that's right' and a 'how' explanation.

Pinocchio Effect - liars use complex sentences and 3rd person pronouns to distance and baffle the other party. Straight shooters tend to be telling the truth.

Watch their pronouns - people that use 'we', 'they', 'them', 'us', 'our' tend to be more important. People saying 'I' and 'my' tend to be less important.

The 'Chris Discount' - humanize yourself to win them over. 'I asked her if I got a discount for joining and she said, "No." So I decided to try another angle. I said in a friendly manner, "My name is Chris. What's the Chris discount?"'

Types of Negotiator/Negotation Styles

The Analyst Negotiator

  • Time = preparation
  • Hypersensitive, detailed planner, ates surprises.
  • Rarely shows emotion
  • Should probably smile more
  • Slow but steady, like silence and uses it a lot

The Accommodating Negotiator

  • Time = the relationship
  • Likes to be on great terms, always talking an communicating
  • Often builds rapport without making progress
  • Calibrated questions usher them along
  • Be careful to actually make progress with them

The Assertive Negotiator

  • Time = money
  • Done > Perfect
  • Direct, candid, aggressive
  • Focus on what they have to say because then they know you understand them and can get on with things
  • If they give an inch, they expect a mile back from you
'The funny thing is when these [negotiation styles] cross over. When an Analyst pauses to think, their Accommodator counterpart gets nervous and an Assertive one starts talking, thereby annoying the Analyst, who thinks to herself, Every time I try to think you take that as an opportunity to talk some more. Won't you ever shut up?'

The Ackerman Method

Step by step for getting the best possible deal/price:

  1. Set your target price (your goal).
  2. Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  3. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent).
  4. Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying "No" to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
  5. When calculating the final amount, use precise, nonround numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.
  6. On your final number, throw in a nonmonetary item (that they probably don't want) to show you're at your limit

Finding Black Swans

'This is nothing beyond what you've been learning up to now. It is merely more intense and intuitive. You have to feel for the truth behind the camouflage; you have to note the small pauses that suggest discomfort and lies. Don't look to verify what you expect.'

There are three types of leverage:

  • Positive leverage - your ability to provide (or withhold) something that they want
  • Negative leverage - your ability to make the other suffer, take something away
  • Normative leverage - appeal to rules, standards, codes. E.g. religion, law, honour, contract etc.

Can be very useful to 'know their religion' or, at the very least, their belief system. Helps you understand their worldview, build rapport and know the ways they see the world.

'More than a little research has shown that genuine, honest conflict between people over their goals actually helps energize the problem solving process in a collaborative way. Skilled negotiators have a talent for using conflict to keep the negotiation going without stumbling into a personal battle.'

'They're Crazy!'

They're usually not. You just haven't understood them yet, or there are three big reasons why they might seem irrational:

  1. They're Ill-Informed - find out what they don't know, then supply them with the info they need.
  2. They're constrained - it's possible that they're unable to talk about something, or do something. Try to get face to face or at least on the phone to get underneath this.
  3. They have other interests - hidden needs or desires you simply don't know about yet.
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