tl;dr Never Split The Difference

Vyas Venugopalan
Sep 29, 2017 · 4 min read

Title: Never Split The Difference (Negotiating as if your life depended on it)

Author: Chris Voss
Category: Negotiations

“ …Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s (the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator’s) head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles — counter-intuitive tactics and strategies — you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.

In 2 lines or less, what do you think about this book?

Easy reading with many practical insights. I found myself reflecting on past negotiations and evaluating just how useful these lessons would have been.

Who would find this book useful?

To reference Chris on this, all of us negotiate every day, all the time with each other, from our rental agreements, to job contracts and even with your family on where to head to for the holidays. His insights are built on his life experiences and a lot of them (other than dealing with the Abu Sayaf, or bank robbers!) are highly relateable.

What scribbles or notes did you take away from this book?

1. Limitations of rational/ logical negotiation techniques:

Chris talks about how the FBI recognised limitations to the rational, procedural approach to negotiations thought under popular frameworks and techniques such as “Getting to Yes”, the Harvard Negotiation Models, BATNA etc.

“trying to make an omelet without first knowing how to crack an egg”… Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of others in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings.

To him we as human beings are largely irrational in our decision making. And if you believed in Daniel Kahneman, conducting negotiations based on System 2 concepts (rational/ logical) without the tools to read, understand and manipulate the System 1 (instinctive, emotional) underpinning our decisions, was like “trying to make an omelet without first knowing how to crack an egg”.

2. Calm the schizophrenic (Learning to listen):

Most people approach a negotiation so preoccupied by arguments that support their position, inhibiting our ability to listen attentively. So instead of thinking at all about what you are going to say, your sole and all encompassing focus should be on the other person and what they have to say.

Think of it this way: We often believe that the one who’s talking controls the negotiation,while in fact its them that’s giving away all the valuable information and cues required to read their position!

3. “Mirroring” a powerful tool.

Also called isopraxism, mirroring is often associated with imitating body language, although to top negotiators, its all about just the words at play, not even the tone or delivery as is popularly believed.

To the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words.

It goes a long way to create a sense of calm and trust in your counterpart, especially when the discussion is aggressive in context.

4. Beware Yes, Master No. Trigger “That’s Right”:

Parties involved in a negotiation often say “Yes”, just to dodge a tough or awkward conversation without actually feeling committed to it. Hence the many cases where you’ve got a “Yes” from a negotiation and walk away feeling successful, only to discover later that they changed their mind or didn’t come through.

To Chris, its when you encounter your first “No” that you’ve started to touch upon the actual underlying issue and the negotiation truly begins.

It’s only when your counterpart(s) say “That’s right”, they feel they have assessed what you’ve said and pronounced it as correct, of their own free will.

Interestingly, this insight appears to transcend language and culture.

5. Ask calibrated “What” and “How” questions:

Instead of asking close ended questions with a single correct answer, asking open ended, calibrated questions forces your counterpart to pause and think about “how” to actually solve the problem.

“What about this is important to you?”, “How can I help make this better for us?”

This forces your counterpart to go from a state of “unbelief”: active resistance to what you are saying to believing they are in control, making them more participative in finding a resolution. Some great stories here on how Chris used this technique to break through tough hostage negotiations.

Those are probably the top 5 takeaway’s I’ve had from the book. Chris has also given many interviews (available on Youtube) where he recaps many of his lessons. His voice and presence reminds me of Al Pacino!

Let me know your thoughts below, and share other insights you might have picked up from your own personal experiences. Do also give me a shout to contribute to tl;dr Book Summaries

Hope you found this useful!

Vyas Venugopalan

Written by

Business Analytics Advisor at SAS Australia. Interests: Strategy, Analytics, Blockchain, Emerging Tech. Contact:



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