Summary of Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Summary: 11 min

Book reading time: 5h38

Score: 10/10

Book published in: 2016

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  • When someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, ask them back “how am I supposed to do that”? That forces the other party to negotiate.
  • How to get someone to talk indefinitely: repeat the last three words they say with an interrogative voice.
  • Build an emotional connection by labeling someone’s feelings (telling them how they feel) so they feel understood.
  • You will be more persuasive by showing what the other party has to lose than what they have to gain.

Table of Contents

What Never Split the Difference Talks About

Never Split the Difference is a book written by Chris Voss, a former international hostage negotiator. He explains the tactics he’s learned about human communication and psychology to get what you want out of any situation. I learned that when someone is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, you should answer “how am I supposed to do that“?

This book is amazing.


Buy the book here.

Summary of Never Split the Difference Written by Chris Voss

Negotiations start by assuming the unknown -> you must discover what you don’t know.

You do so by actively listening. You need to find out what the person you are negotiating with is seeking, and why.

To do so, you need to get them to talk and feel safe with you.

Slow it down. Take your time.

Your most powerful tool is your voice. Make it deep, soothing, like a midnight radio DJ.

Communication is 7-38-55. 7% what is said, 38% tone of voice, 55% body language.


Use mirroring to get people to talk endlessly. Repeat the last three words they said, whether through a question or simply by repeating.


“I went on holiday to Thailand.”
– To Thailand?
– Yeah. My partner had never been there and she really wanted to pet elephants.
– Petting elephants?
– Yeah dude, that’s crazy, there is that place where you can go and….”

Apply this to negotiations when you want a different offer ->

  • Take a deep soothing voice.
  • Say “I am sorry” + last 3 words that the person said, with an interrogative tone.
  • Wait for them to start speaking again.
  • Repeat until they change the offer.


“We’ll offer you a 3k salary.
– I am sorry, a 3k salary?
– Euhm…yeah, we believe this is industry standards…?
– I am sorry, industry standards?”

Being right isn’t the key to a successful negotiation – having the right mindset is.


Let’s speak about labeling. Labeling is telling others what they are feeling to show understanding and to bond with them.

Eg: the author speaks of a hostage situation. 3 guys are locked with guns in an apartment. He starts talking to them.

“It looks like you are afraid to come out. That you worry about whether getting killed, or going back to jail.”

-> it is important to address the underlying emotions, the one that motivates the behavior, not the one that appears in the situation.

People are not sad/frustrated because of what you said, but because of what you said meant to them.

When you label emotions, you:

  • diffuse them, and show empathy.
  • get closer to the person -> increases trust and opens the door to a negotiation to resolve the problem.
  • defuse and diffuse emotions.

Acknowledge the Elephant to Diffuse It

If you do something bad, acknowledge it right away instead of hiding it.

Go directly to it, as fast as you can. It diffuses the negative feeling. Say something funny to your boss like “forgive me father, for I have sinned” or start with “look, I am an a**hole”.

Now, let’s see how to merge the two tactics (labeling + acknowledging the elephant in the room) we have talked about.

Situation: a relationship is getting sour.

What you do -> label what the other party thinks of you before they start talking.

“You may feel cheated because we promised you x-y-z and you didn’t get it” -> EMPATHY IS A POWERFUL EMOTION.

If they did feel cheated, the fact that you acknowledged it and diffused the feeling will make them feel less cheated.

They feel listened to.

Tactical Empathy

To establish a good negotiation, use tactical empathy first. Show the other party you know how they are feeling.

Situation: getting an airline employee to give you a seat in a plane despite the fact that you are not supposed to be on that plane, in the midst of a mess at the airport.

“It seems like it was a tough day for you.” -> empathy.

Then mirror by getting that person to talk to you about stuff that you may use later on.

Once they feel comfortable, label the roadblock to giving you what you want so you get it out of the way before it even happens: “I know all the planes are full and that it is a long shot for me to get a seat”.

Then label the worse things that could be said about you: “you may think I am a horrible demanding person for asking this”.

Finally, state your demand “but since some people may miss the flight, I was wondering if there wouldn’t be a seat for me”.

image 5
The steps of a successful negotiation.


Negotiations start when you get a “no”.

“No” is awesome.

You need to give people the chance to say “no” because they value autonomy very highly.

When they say “no” and you acknowledge it, they feel good and trust you because you give them the space to say it.

They feel in control. At ease. Once they say no, then the negotiation begins.

-> people need to be given a choice constantly.

Never ever tell someone straight what to do.

Instead of saying “bring me a cup of coffee”, say “would you like to bring me a cup of coffee?”

When you give people the choice to say no, whatever they do for you becomes their own decision. People want to make their own decisions.

Negotiation Is Not About You. It Is About Them.

You need to persuade the other party by taking their own point of view. To do so, you start with their most basic wants.

Situation: cold-call sales.

Embrace No. Don’t get to yes with the first question. Don’t ask “have you ever wanted to be rich”? Because the “yes” you’ll get will be a forced yes and people hate giving you a forced yes.

Instead, ask a “no” question. We love to say no.

“Is now a bad time to talk”? is a good example. Instead of asking if people want to be rich, ask them if they are satisfied with their lives financially.

Getting a “no” is much more powerful than getting a “yes”. Especially for sales.

When They Stop Responding

If someone is not responding to you in the context of a project you are doing together, send an email with “have you given up on this project?

They will likely respond and say “no” very fast.

That’s Right VS You’Re Right

That’s right” are the best words in a negotiation.

When people say “that’s right”, they are acknowledging that what you are saying is correct.

You get to “that’s right” by using mirroring and labeling.

It usually comes at the end of the conversation when you repeat and summarize what the other person has said to make sure you both understand.

If they say “that’s right”, you are winning.

If they say “You’re right”, you lost.

“You’re right” means “STFU”.

Never trust someone who said “you’re right”, as it means everything but the fact that they think you are right.

All you can be sure of is that they’re not sharing your opinion.

Where to Start

The more someone feels understood, the more they will want to “build an agreement” with you.

-> always start from a point of “agreement” that you both agree on, and build from there.

Never Split the Difference

No deal is better than a bad deal. Splitting the difference usually leaves both sides bitter, even in negotiations.

If a guy wants to wear black shoes and his wife wants him to wear brown shoes, a compromise would mean he’d have to wear one brown and one black shoe.

That is the worst option.

Don’t compromise. Never split the difference.

Take Your Time

Take your time – there is no such thing as a deadline.

Deadlines are often arbitrary, almost always flexible, and hardly trigger the consequences we are told.

Always communicate about your deadline.

Otherwise, the other party will make you lose time and you’ll negotiate against yourself.

Don’t be afraid of not meeting the deadline.

Your deadline is also the deadline of the other party (de facto).

On Buying a Car

Car dealers will give you better prices towards the end of the month.

On Fairness

Fairness is important to humans (mammals actually). But it is also emotional.

You can use the word “fair” to boost your negotiation in three situations.

  1. When you are selling your house and the buyer wants a very low price, too low for you. You can accuse him of not being fair. It will tap into his emotion and he will raise the offer.
  2. When someone is asking you for proof of good faith, you can shift the focus and say you gave a fair offer.
    “How do we know you will not cheat us?
    – I think my offer is fair.”
  3. At the beginning of a negotiation, tell your counterpart to stop you if you are being unfair to them. They will already relax.

On Sales

If you can get people to tell you their real problem, you can sell them a vision that leaves your offer as the perfect solution.

If you know the emotional benefit, you can frame any deal in a language that will resonate.

On Loss Aversion

Loss aversion: we hate losing much more than we like to win.

To get real leverage, you have to persuade the other party they have a lot to lose if the deal falls through.

Get Better Deals

Let’s say you promised your client to get a deal for 10k, but now it will cost 15k instead.

It’s unlikely they’re going to agree…unless you prepare yourself well.

The accusation audit: tell your audience what they think about you -> it shows empathy, acknowledges their fears, and diffuses the bad feelings.

It serves to anchor their emotions low, so whatever higher emotions you offer them after will seem like a good deal.

“You will think that I am an a**hole”. -> This prepares them for the loss they are about to take.

Then tell them “I still want to bring this opportunity to you before I bring it to someone else” so that they fear losing the opportunity entirely, even if the deal is not as good as they thought.

Now, offer them the new deal you had in mind.

From this point of view, a renegotiated deal is better than a total loss of the deal. They won’t say “no” to the new deal.

On Negotiating Salaries

Never ask for a specific salary. Offer a range instead.

It is better to say “wait, you’ll pay me only 100 000? At that company, people earn between 110 000 and 130 000” than to say “at that company, people earn 120 000.”

You’ll receive a much higher offer when you express a range instead of a fixed number.

If someone cannot pay you what you ask, ask them if they could give you anything else for free (non-monetary advantages, like holidays).

It also works the other way around.

When someone asks a lower price for what you sell, you can throw in free stuff so it looks like a better deal.

You can also throw in a free bonus spontaneously. It is the reciprocity principle. When you give first, you often get something in exchange.

How to negotiate a salary.

  1. Insist pleasantly on non-monetary terms (vacation, company car, business class flight). If they can’t give it to you, they’ll increase your salary.
  2. Define success terms. It’s important for all parties to know what success is exactly.
  3. Ask “what does it take to be successful here?” at the end of the interview. Not only does it make you look good, but you will receive important information. Also, you’ll get a mentor since the person explaining you what it actually takes will want to know if you followed their advice, and will want you to succeed. They will become a mentor to you without knowing so.

On Buying

Use weird numbers.

They feel specific, like if you had made a serious calculation -> people won’t want to negotiate down.

Eg: Don’t say “I want to pay 1800$ for the rent”.

Say instead “I want to pay 1793.5$”. People will be impressed.

How to Negotiate Like a Pro

Give the other party the illusion of control by asking calibrated questions.

The best answer you can give when you are being asked something you don’t want to give is ask “How am I supposed to do that”. This question is great because.

  • You can use it to say “no”.
  • You can use it to get the other to fix your own problem.
  • Since it is a question, you make them feel like they have control.

These questions are called calibrated questions.

They help you orientate the discussion without your counterpart thinking so. You give them the illusion of control.

Always ask “how” and “what” questions.

Never ask “why”.

“What made you do it” is much better than “why did you do it”?

Your question must always be open-ended.

Never ask closed-ended questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”.

– 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?

These questions imply that you want what the other party wants and you need their help to get it.

The black swan rule: don’t treat others how you want to be treated: treat them how they want to be treated.

Never be needy for a deal. Never let the emotions take the best of you. Always play it cool.

Never look at your counterpart as an enemy. Practice tough love toward him. Look at them like diabetics eating ice cream. You want the best for them – and that doesn’t include ice cream.

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

Focus on the issue. Not on the person. Never make it personal.

On Closing

When you close a deal, ask questions to make sure everyone in the other party is on board:

  • “How is the rest of the team feeling about this?”
  • How are they coming on board?”

Someone in the other party may end up killing your deal if they don’t like it, even if they are not negotiating directly.

To make sure you get an agreement, ask for confirmation three times. You need to get three “yes”.

If someone says yes but it is a small yes, diffuse the hesitation by telling them “it seems like you hesitate”. You want a strong yes.

Yes means nothing without “how”. Always confirm how the “yes” will be implemented.

Pay close attention to the tone of voice and body language. It will show you if the person is uncomfortable with the deal or not.

Humor and humanity are the best way to break the ice and remove roadblocks.

In a negotiation, if the counterpart uses “I” a lot, they don’t matter. If they don’t use it, they matter a lot.

Dealing With Liars

Ask a lot of “how” questions.

Liars never use “I”, but “he, she, it, they” etc because they want to take distance from their lies.

On Names

Use your counterpart’s name but not too much, and use yours too.

Eg: if you go to a shop for the first time, ask for a discount with the following question: “My name is Aure, what’s the Aure discount today?”

Negotiator Types

There are three types of negotiators.

  • The analyst, who prepares well and thinks during silence.
  • The accommodator, who is very social and will want to offer reciprocity when you offer them free stuff.
  • The assertive, who believes time is money, does not like silences and will ruthlessly go to his goal without playing reciprocity.

How to Negotiate for a Car – The Ackerman System of Ransom

Decide your maximum target price.

Start at 65% of that target price.

Get to 85%, then 95%, then 100%.

Use a random precise number and throw in some non-monetary item (“I will pay you right away”).

On Black Swans

Beware of black swans: a black swan is an unknown and unexpected piece of information that may change the whole paradigm of a negotiation. On average, each side is in possession of 3 black swans.

To find them, you need to remain extra open.

Keep the end in mind but don’t focus on it. Focus on the next step instead.

Blackswan is leverage.

There are three types:

  • Positive leverage: normal leverage. It could be that your counterpart is considering only you as a provider of a service. That’s leverage you would want to know about.
  • Negative leverage: based on threats. Avoid it.
  • Normative leverage: use their norms to advance your cause. No one likes to look like a hypocrite.

We trust people more when they are similar to us. Build rapport with mirroring.
“It was raining this morning?
– Raining this morning…
– Yeah, I don’t like it at all, it’s always raining when I am wearing my favorite suit…
– Your favorite suit?
– Yeah, I got it in Dubai during a work trip last year…”

Reasons why your counterpart may seem crazy.

  • They lack information or have garbage information. If it is the case, your job is to look for what they don’t know and supply the correct info. They will reward you.
  • They are constrained.
  • They have other interests in mind

How to find out Black Swans.

  • Get to the table physically
  • Listen very attentively

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