Never Split The Difference

by Chris Voss

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: February 23, 2024
 18 min read
Never Split The Difference
Never Split The Difference

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What are the big ideas?

  1. To be a good negotiator, you should listen carefully. This shows you care about what the other person is saying and helps you understand them better.
  2. Great negotiators are always prepared for unexpected things and are open to new possibilities. They don't just stick to their own beliefs but consider other points of view.
  3. In negotiations, you should pay attention to the other person's needs and feelings. This helps create trust and makes them feel safe to share their thoughts.
  4. Recognize and talk about emotions during negotiations. This helps manage negative feelings and encourages positive ones, making the negotiation smoother.
  5. Take your time in negotiations. Rushing can break trust. Use calm and positive communication to build a connection. Aim for agreements where the other person feels like they also win.


Chapter 1: The New Rules

The Fundamental Principle of Negotiation

  • Negotiation begins with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted.

The Power of Listening in Negotiation

  • Listening is the cheapest yet most effective concession we can make to get there.
  • By listening intensely, you demonstrate empathy and show a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.

Chapter 2: Be a Mirror

Preparedness and Adaptability in Negotiation

  • Good negotiators know that they need to be ready for surprises; great negotiators use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain to exist.

Questioning Assumptions and Staying Open in Negotiations

  • Great negotiators question the assumptions that others accept on faith or in arrogance.
  • Thus, they remain more emotionally open to all possibilities and more intellectually agile to a fluid situation.

The Discovery Process in Negotiation

  • People who view negotiation as a battle of arguments become overwhelmed by the voices in their head.
  • Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery.
  • Your goal is to uncover as much information as possible.

Focusing on the Other Party in Negotiations

  • To quiet the voices in your head, make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say.
  • Your goal is to identify what your counterpart actually needs and get them feeling safe enough to talk about what they want.
  • Negotiation begins with listening, making it about the other people, validating their emotions, and creating enough trust and safety for a real conversation to begin.

The Importance of Pace and Trust in Negotiation

  • Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators make.
  • If you’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard and you risk undermining the rapport and trust we’ve built.

Voice Tones and Their Impact in Negotiation

  • There are three voice tones available to negotiators: The late-night FM DJ voice, the positive/playful voice, and the direct or assertive voice.
  • Put a smile on your face to encourage positivity and mental agility in both you and your counterpart.
  • You can be very direct and to the point as long as you create safety with your tone of voice.

Testing Assumptions and Building Connections

  • View assumptions as hypotheses and use the negotiation to test them rigorously.
  • Mirrors work magic in negotiations by creating a sense of similarity and bonding.
  • By repeating back what people say, your counterpart will inevitably elaborate and continue the connection process.
  • Mirroring can significantly impact outcomes, as shown in a study where waiters received higher tips.

Mindset and Strategy for Successful Negotiation

  • Having the right mindset is the key to a successful negotiation.
  • To negotiate effectively without confrontation, use the late-night FM DJ voice, start with an apology, mirror the counterpart, maintain silence to let the mirror work, and repeat the process.

Chapter 3: Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It

Understanding Tactical Empathy in Negotiation

  • Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow.

The Concept of Neural Resonance in Emotional Intelligence

  • 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.
  • To increase neural resonance skills, practice visualizing yourself in someone else's situation with as much detail as possible.

The Technique of Labeling Emotions in Negotiation

  • Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it.
  • The first step to labeling is detecting the other person’s emotional state.
  • The trick to spotting feelings is to pay close attention to changes in people's responses.
  • Once you’ve spotted an emotion, label it aloud using phrases like “It seems like…”, “It sounds like…”, or “It looks like…”
  • After labeling, remain silent and listen.

Addressing Underlying Emotions in Negotiation

  • People's emotions have two levels: the “presenting” behavior and the “underlying” feeling.
  • Good negotiators address underlying emotions, diffusing negative emotions and reinforcing positive ones.
  • Labeling helps de-escalate angry confrontations and makes the person acknowledge their feelings.

Strategies to Handle Negativity and Barriers in Negotiation

  • The best way to deal with negativity is to observe it without reaction, label the feelings, and replace them with positive thoughts.
  • Acknowledge your counterpart's situation to show you are listening and to potentially uncover useful information.
  • Focus on clearing barriers to agreement; denying them only gives them more power.
  • After labeling a barrier or mirroring a statement, pause to let the other party fill the silence.
  • Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power.

Preemptive Strategies in Negotiation

  • List the worst things the other party could say about you and say them first to diminish their impact.
  • Use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics, acknowledging that the other person wants to be appreciated and understood.

Chapter 4: Beware “Yes”—Master “No”

The Role of 'No' in Effective Negotiation

  • Pushing hard for “Yes” doesn’t get a negotiator any closer to a win; it just angers the other side.
  • For good negotiators, “No” provides a great opportunity for you and the other party to clarify what you really want by eliminating what you don’t want.
  • “No” is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it.
  • Great negotiators seek “No” because they know that’s often when the real negotiation begins.
  • “No” can often mean a variety of things, from needing more information to wanting to discuss with someone else.

Strategic Questioning to Navigate a 'No'

  • Ask solution-based questions to understand the reasons behind a “No.”

Understanding Different Types of 'Yes'

  • There are three kinds of “Yes”: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment.
  • A counterfeit “yes” is misleading, while a confirmation “yes” is a simple affirmation, and a commitment “yes” is a true agreement leading to action.

Building Connection and Fulfilling Basic Human Drives in Negotiation

  • Successful negotiation involves guiding the counterpart to discover the negotiator's goal as their own.
  • Satisfying the basic human needs for safety and control is crucial in negotiation.

Techniques to Elicit a 'No' and Its Benefits

  • Encouraging a “No” can bring forth real issues and make people feel safe and in control.
  • Triggering a “No” response can be strategic, such as mislabeling an emotion or posing a negative question.
  • Using “No”-oriented questions can re-engage a disinterested counterpart.

Chapter 5: Trigger The Two Words That Immediately Transform Any Negotiation

Achieving Agreement in Negotiations

  • Before you convince your counterpart to see what you’re trying to accomplish, you have to say the things to them that will get them to say, “That’s right.”
  • “That’s right” is better than “yes.” Strive for it. Reaching “that’s right” in a negotiation creates breakthroughs.

Techniques for Eliciting Agreement

  • 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 …”

Chapter 6: Bend Their Reality

The Importance of Fairness in Negotiations

  • The most powerful word in negotiations is “Fair.”
  • As a negotiator, you should strive for a reputation of being fair. Your reputation precedes you. Let it precede you in a way that paves success.

Understanding and Influencing Emotional Drivers in Negotiations

  • Know the emotional drivers and you can frame the benefits of any deal in language that will resonate.
  • To get real leverage in a tough negotiation, you have to persuade the other party that they have something to lose if the deal falls through.

Strategies for Effective Negotiation

  • Anchor Their Emotions: To bend your counterpart’s reality, you have to start with the basics of empathy. Start out with an accusation audit acknowledging all of their fears. By anchoring their emotions in preparation for a loss, you inflame the other side’s loss aversion so that they’ll jump at the chance to avoid it.
  • Let The Other Guy Go First … Most of The Time: Going first is not necessarily the best thing when it comes to negotiating price. Let the other side anchor monetary negotiations.
  • Establish a Range: When confronted with naming your terms or price, counter by recalling a similar deal which establishes your “ballpark,” albeit the best possible ballpark you wish to be in.
  • Pivot to Non-Monetary Terms: One of the easiest ways to bend your counterpart’s reality to your point of view is to pivot to non-monetary terms.
  • When You Do Talk Numbers, Use Odd Ones: Numbers that end in 0 inevitably feel like temporary placeholders, guesstimates that you can easily be negotiated off of. But anything you throw out that sounds less rounded—say, $37,263—feels like a figure that you came to as a result of a thoughtful calculation.
  • Surprise with a Gift: You can get your counterpart into a mood of generosity by staking an extreme anchor and then, after their inevitable first rejection, offering them a wholly unrelated surprise gift.

Tips for Negotiating a Better Salary

  • Be Pleasantly Persistent on Non-Salary Terms: Pleasant persistence is a kind of emotional anchoring that creates empathy with the boss and builds the right psychological environment for constructive discussion.
  • Salary Terms without Success Terms is Russian Roulette: Once you’ve negotiated a salary, make sure to define success for your position—as well as metrics for your next raise.
  • Spark Their Interest in Your Success and Gain an Unofficial Mentor: When you are selling yourself to a manager, sell yourself as more than a body for a job; sell yourself, and your success, as a way they can validate their own intelligence and broadcast it to the rest of the company.

Handling Perceptions of Fairness and Deadlines in Negotiations

  • Don’t compromise. Meeting halfway often leads to bad deals for both sides.
  • Approaching deadlines entice people to rush the negotiating process and do impulsive things that are against their best interests.
  • The F-word—“Fair”—is an emotional term people usually exploit to put the other side on the defensive and gain concessions. When your counterpart drops the F-bomb, don’t get suckered into a concession. Instead, ask them to explain how you’re mistreating them.
  • You can bend your counterpart’s reality by anchoring his starting point. Before you make an offer, emotionally anchor them by saying how bad it will be. When you get to numbers, set an extreme anchor to make your “real” offer seem reasonable, or use a range to seem less aggressive.
  • People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart sees that there is something to lose by inaction.

Chapter 7: Create the Illusion of Control

Utilizing Calibrated Questions in Negotiations

  • When you go into a store, instead of telling the salesclerk what you “need,” you can describe what you’re looking for and ask for suggestions. Then, once you’ve picked out what you want, instead of hitting them with a hard offer, you can just say the price is a bit more than you budgeted and ask for help with one of the greatest-of-all-time calibrated questions: “How am I supposed to do that?”
  • Calibrated questions have the power to educate your counterpart on what the problem is rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is.
  • You should use calibrated questions early and often, and there are a few that you will find that you will use at the beginning of nearly every negotiation. “What is the biggest challenge you face?” is one of those questions.
  • Here are some other great standbys that Chris uses in almost every negotiation, depending on the situation: 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?
  • Calibrated questions make your counterpart feel like they’re in charge, but it’s really you who are framing the conversation.

Managing Emotions and Control in Negotiations

  • Even with all the best techniques and strategy, you need to regulate your emotions if you want to have any hope of coming out on top.
  • The first and most basic rule of keeping your emotional cool is to bite your tongue.
  • Another simple rule is, when you are verbally assaulted, is to disarm your counterpart by asking a calibrated question.
  • When people feel that they are not in control, they adopt what psychologists call a hostage mentality. That is, in moments of conflict they react to their lack of power by either becoming extremely defensive or lashing out.

Effective Questioning Techniques in Negotiations

  • Avoid questions that can be answered with “Yes” or tiny pieces of information. These require little thought and inspire the human need for reciprocity; you will be expected to give something back.
  • Ask calibrated 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.
  • Don’t ask questions that start with “Why” unless you want your counterpart to defend a goal that serves you. “Why” is always an accusation, in any language.
  • Calibrate your questions to point your counterpart toward solving your problem. This will encourage them to expend their energy on devising a solution.

Recognizing the Influence of Teams in Negotiations

  • There is always a team on the other side. If you are not influencing those behind the table, you are vulnerable.

Chapter 8: Guarantee Execution

The Role of a Negotiator as a Decision Architect

  • Negotiators have to be “decision architects.” They have to dynamically and adaptively design the verbal and nonverbal elements of the negotiation to gain both consent and execution.
  • “Yes” is nothing without “How.”
  • With enough of the right “How” questions, you can read and shape the negotiating environment in such a way that you’ll eventually get to the answer you want to hear.

The Power and Technique of "How" Questions in Negotiations

  • The trick to “How” questions is that they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution—your solution. A gentle How/No invites collaboration and leaves your counterpart with a feeling of having been treated with respect.
  • Besides saying “No,” the other key benefit of asking “How?” is that it forces your counterpart to consider and explain how a deal will be implemented.
  • By making your counterparts articulate implementation in their own words, your carefully calibrated “How” questions will convince them that the final solution is their idea. And that’s crucial. People always make more effort to implement a solution when they think it’s theirs.
  • There are two key questions you can ask to push your counterparts to think they are defining success their way: “How will we know we’re on track?” and “How will we address things if we find we’re off track?” When they answer, you summarize their answers until you get a “That’s right.” Then you’ll know they’ve bought in.

Identifying and Addressing Lack of Commitment in Negotiations

  • Be wary of two telling signs that your counterpart doesn’t believe the idea is theirs. When they say, “You’re right,” it’s often a good indicator they are not vested in what is being discussed.
  • When you push for implementation and they say, “I’ll try,” be aware: it really means, “I plan to fail.”
  • When you hear either of the above, dive back in with calibrated “How” questions until they define the terms of successful implementation in their own voice.
  • Follow up by summarizing what they have said to get a “That’s right.”

The Influence of Behind-the-Table Players in Negotiations

  • You have to beware of “behind the table” or “Level II” players—that is, parties that are not directly involved but who can help implement agreements they like and block ones they don’t.

Subtle Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Techniques in Negotiation

  • The 7-38-55 Percent Rule: Albert Mehrabian created the 7-38-55 rule, indicating that only 7 percent of a message is based on the words, while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker’s body language and face.
  • The Rule of Three: The Rule of Three is simply getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation.
  • The Pinocchio Effect: In a study of the components of lying, Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra found that, on average, liars use more words than truth tellers and use far more third-person pronouns.
  • The Chris Discount: People are often tired of being hammered with their own name. So, using your own name in negotiation creates the dynamic of “forced empathy.”

Techniques for Indirectly Saying "No" and Testing Agreement in Negotiations

  • The best way to get your counterparts to lower their demands is to say “No” using “How” questions.
  • Chris has found that you can usually express “No” four times before actually saying the word.
  • Is the “Yes” real or counterfeit? Test it with the Rule of Three: use calibrated questions, summaries, and labels to get your counterpart to reaffirm their agreement at least three times.
  • A person’s use of pronouns offers deep insights into his or her relative authority. If you’re hearing a lot of “I,” “me,” and “my,” the real power to decide probably lies elsewhere.

Chapter 9: Bargain Hard

Strategies to Shift Focus in Negotiations

  • When you feel you’re being dragged into a haggle, you can detour the conversation to the non-monetary issues that make any final price work.
  • When a negotiation is far from resolution and going nowhere fast, you need to shake things up and get your counterpart out of their rigid mindset.
  • If you are working to lure a client away from a competitor, you might say, “Why would you ever do business with me? Why would you ever change from your existing supplier? They’re great!”
  • Using the first-person singular pronoun is another great way to set a boundary without escalating into confrontation.
  • When you want to counteract unproductive statements from your counterpart, you can say, “I feel ___ when you ___ because ___,” and that demands a time-out from the other person.
  • Once you’re clear on what your bottom line is, you have to be willing to walk away. Never be needy for a deal.

Focusing on the Issue, Not the Person, in Negotiations

  • The person across the table is never the problem. The unsolved issue is.

The Ackerman Model in Negotiation

  • The Ackerman model is an offer-counteroffer method. It includes six steps: Set your target price; set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price; calculate three raises of decreasing increments; use empathy and different ways of saying “No”; use precise, non-round numbers; and throw in a non-monetary item on your final number.
  • Prepare an Ackerman plan. Remember: 65, 85, 95, 100 percent. Decreasing raises and ending on non-round numbers will get your counterpart to believe that he’s squeezing you for all you’re worth when you’re really getting to the number you want.

Tailoring Negotiation Approach to Different Styles

  • Identify your counterpart’s negotiating style. Once you know whether they are Accommodator, Assertive, or Analyst, you’ll know the correct way to approach them.

Chapter 10: Find The Black Swan

Recognizing and Adapting to Unknown Factors in Negotiation

  • Every case is new. We must let what we know—our known knowns—guide us but not blind us to what we do not know.

Assessing Leverage and Loss in Negotiations

  • As a negotiator, you should always be aware of which side, at any given moment, feels they have the most to lose if negotiations collapse.
  • To get leverage, persuade your counterpart that they have something real to lose if the deal falls through.

Types of Leverage in Negotiation

  • At a taxonomic level, there are three kinds of leverage: Positive, Negative, and Normative.
  • Positive leverage is your ability to provide—or withhold—things that your counterpart wants.
  • Negative leverage is a negotiator’s ability to make his counterpart suffer.
  • Normative leverage is using the other party’s norms and standards to advance your position.

Identifying and Using Normative Leverage

  • Discovering the Black Swans that give you normative valuation can be as easy as asking what your counterpart believes and listening openly.
  • Work to understand the other side’s “religion.” Digging into worldviews inherently implies moving beyond the negotiating table and into the life, emotional and otherwise, of your counterpart.

Common Mistakes in Assessing Counterparts in Negotiations

  • In their book Negotiation Genius, Harvard Business School professors Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman provide a look at the common reasons negotiators mistakenly call their counterparts crazy.
  • Mistake #1: They Are Ill-Informed.
  • Mistake #2: They Are Constrained.
  • Mistake #3: They Have Other Interests.

Techniques for Discovering and Exploiting Black Swans in Negotiations

  • The Best Techniques for Flushing Out Black Swans—and Exploiting Them.
  • Black Swans are leverage multipliers. Remember the three types of leverage: positive, negative, and normative.
  • Exploit the similarity principle. People are more apt to concede to someone they share a cultural similarity with, so dig for what makes them tick and show that you share common ground.


  1. How can active listening transform my approach to negotiations?
  2. In what ways can I prepare for unexpected turns in a negotiation?
  3. How can questioning my assumptions improve my negotiation outcomes?
  4. What strategies can I use to make the negotiation process a discovery rather than a battle?
  5. How does focusing on the other party's needs create trust and facilitate better negotiation?
  6. What role does pacing play in building rapport in negotiations?
  7. How can different voice tones affect the dynamics of a negotiation?
  8. Why is testing assumptions important, and how can mirroring aid in this process?
  9. How can I use tactical empathy to better understand my negotiation counterpart?
  10. What are the benefits of encouraging a 'No' in negotiations, and how can it lead to more effective outcomes?

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