Negotiate like a Pro: Book Notes on “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss

Alice Heiman
7 min readMay 4, 2023

🦁 The Comic

Negotiating Power-tricks

  1. Effective pauses: Silence is powerful. Use for emphasis and to encourage the other party to keep talking.
  2. Encouragers: use simple phrases such as “Yes”, “OK”, “Uh-huh”, or “I see” to signal that you are listening.
  3. Mirroring: listen and repeat back what they say.
  4. Labelling: give the other party’s feelings a name and identify with how they feel. (It all seems so … I can now see why you…)
  5. Paraphrase: Repeat what the other party is saying but with your own words.
  6. Summarise: Paraphrase + label. Restate what has been said and acknowledge the emotions that go with it. Leave a pause, triggering a “that’s right” moment.
Six powerful strategies for effective negotiating.

🐳 Actionable Takeaways

  • Humans are largely emotional, irrational and unstable creatures. It is most effective to play on that side to influence the logical and deliberate side — and thus change responses.
  • Asking open ended questions like “How am I supposed to do that?” makes the other side question their offer, argue with themselves, and perhaps give a better offer for us.
  • Tactical empathy is treating listening as a martial art, a skill that gives you a door into the other person’s head. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand what they’re feeling and why.
  • Use two main types of voice: a positive/playful voice is relaxed, light and encouraging. Relax and smile. Treat each encounter as a fun game, so that no matter how aggressively you push, the smile and playful demeanour will prepare the other side for a successful outcome. The FM DJ voice is a sense of calm, “I’m in control”. Speak slowly, in a controlled manner and lower your voice. Articulate your idea clearly. Clear, simple, no questions asked. (Raising your voice signals uncertainty and leaves room for a response.)
  • Mirror the other person to build trust and suggest similarity. This can be as simple as repeating the last three words (or the one to three critical words). Mirroring (as in repeating back what someone has just said) is more effective than positive reinforcement (such as “great”, “no problem” and “sure”) in many situations.
  • “Don’t feel their pain, label it”
  • Recognise the power of “no”. It makes the other party feel in control and sets the boundaries that move the negotiation forward.
  • “You’re right” is a disaster. “That’s right” is your golden ticket in.
  • Learn to lean into the emotional drivers to frame the benefits of a deal in a way that resonates.
  • Use open-ended questions instead of closed questions with a yes/no answer. Open-ended questions ask “how” and force the other side to come up with the solution themselves. (It is not your responsibility to “fix” the problem!)
  • Don’t try to convince people of your point of view. Ride them to your ideas so that they feel in control. Then real change can happen.
  • Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Most of the time it boils down to finding the inner reason for an action. Finding the answer to the question “What do you really want? Try to solve this problem or frame your solution in this way. Make every conversation about them, them, them! Not about me, me, me!
  • Summarise the situation and end with “How am I supposed to do that?”
  • Lead with questions. Questions questions questions! Instead of saying “no” say “how am I supposed to…”
  • Thinking “they’re crazy” is often a way for us to step back and think about whether we have missed something. Do we really know how they see the world? Do they have enough information? Are they constrained? Do they have hidden interests?
  • Black swans = anything you don’t know about that changes things.

🦄 Favorite Quotes

“Our techniques were the products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed. It was an iterative process, not an intellectual one, as we refined the tools we used day after day. And it was urgent. Our tools had to work, because if they didn’t someone died.”

“By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.”

“Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

“In this world, you get what you ask for; you just have to ask correctly.”

“You should engage the process with a mindset of discovery.”

“Never split the difference.”

“No deal is better than a bad deal.”

“I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.”

“It’s a “how” question, and “how” engages because “how” asks for help.”

‘People always make more effort to implement a solution when they think it’s theirs. That is simply human nature. That’s why negotiation is often called “the art of letting someone else have your way.”’

🐡 Bonus

Voices

  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.

  1. 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.
  2. The direct or assertive voice: Used rarely. Will cause problems and create pushback.

Handle pit-bulls

  1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice
  2. Start with “I’m sorry…”
  3. Mirror.
  4. Silence. At least four seconds.
  5. Repeat

Practice neural resonance skills

“you want to increase your neural resonance skills, take a moment Fight now and practice. Turn your attention to someone who’s talking near you, or watch a person being interviewed on TV. As they talk, imagine that you are that person. Visualise yourself in the position they describe and put in as much detail as you can, as if you were actually there.”

Labeling

Place others emotions in words.

It seems like…

It sounds like…

It looks like…

Then, be quiet and listen.

Leave the door open, the statement hanging, to make the other person expand on it and reveal themselves.

Diffuse the negative and reinforce the positive. Go at mistakes head-on: “Look, I’m an asshole”

“Research shows that the best way to deal with negativity is to observe it, without reaction and without judgment. Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts.”

Example:

“We don’t see each other all that often. It seems like you feel we don’t pay any attention to you and you only see us once a year, so why should you make time for us? PAUSE For us this is a real treat. We want to hear what you have to talk about. We want to value this time with you because we feel left out of your life.”

Email magic

“Have you given up on this project?”

Disagree like a pro

Replace “You can’t go” with “What do you hope to achieve by leaving?”

  • “Why do you find it so important to leave?”

Calibrated questions

Begin with “what”, “how” and perhaps sometimes “why”.

  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • 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?

The important thing here is not confronting anyone with your ideas. Rather 1) acknowledge how they are feeling using labeling and summaries, and then 2) guide them toward solving the problem by asking open-ended calibrated questions.

Example: “I understand why you’re pissed off. What do you hope to accomplish by leaving?”

“Hey, how do we know José is okay? How are we supposed to pay until we know José is okay?”

“How am I supposed to ask for my parents retirement money until I know what Stanford really needs from me?”

Example script

  1. A “No”-oriented email question to reinitiate contact: “Have you given up on settling this amicably?”
  2. A statement that leaves only the answer of “That’s right” to form a dynamic of agreement: “It seems that you feel my bill is not justified.”
  3. Calibrated questions about the problem to get him to reveal his thinking: “How does this bill violate our agreement?”
  4. More “No”-oriented questions to remove unspoken barriers: “Are you saying I misled you?” “Are you saying I didn’t do as you asked?” “Are you saying I reneged on our agreement?” or “Are you saying I failed you?”
  5. Labelling and mirroring the essence of his answers if they are not acceptable so he has to consider them again: “It seems like you feel my work was subpar.” Or “ . . my work was subpar?”
  6. A calibrated question in reply to any offer other than full payment, in order to get him to offer a solution: “How am I supposed to accept that?”
  7. If none of this gets an offer of full payment, a label that flatters his sense of control and power: “It seems like you are the type of person who prides himself on the way he does business- rightfully so- and has a knack for not only expanding the pie but making the ship run more efficiently.”
  8. A long pause and then one more “No”-oriented question:

“Do you want to be known as someone who doesn’t fulfil agreements?”

Good execution

Ask “How will we know we’re on track?” or “How will we address things if we find we’re off track?”

Then, summarise their answer until you get a “That’s right.”

Four tiers of no

  • “How am I supposed to do that?”
  • “Your offer is very generous, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.”
  • “I’m sorry but I’m afraid I just can’t do that.”
  • “I’m sorry, no”

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