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Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss Summary & Notes

never split the difference book by Chris voss cover

Rating: 7/10

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Noteworthy Thoughts

This is book is for everyone since negotiation plays a part in all of our daily lives. However, if you’re involved in sales, business development, or pitching where negotiation is vital to your success, this is a must read. Lots of practical techniques that you can immediately begin using.

Summary Notes

Technique: Mirrors

Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. We fear what’s different and are drawn to what is similar. Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding. Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy.

Technique: Label fears.

Generate feelings of safety and trust by labeling their fears so they lose their power. 

Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power.

It sounds like…
It feels like…
It looks like…

Use silence, be quiet and listen once you’ve labelled something. Invite the person to reveal themself to you. Label positive perceptions and dynamics as well. 

Technique: Accusation Audit

Do an Accusation audit. List ever terrible thing your counterpart could say about you.  And say them before the other person can. 

Master “No”.

No is often temporary. People feel the need to control and NO gives them the control they desire. Let them have it. And get them to say it early on. 

No is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. [No] is a statement of perception far more often than fact.

No can mean something other than rejection and you need to pick out the alternative meaning. Once they’ve said no, you can ask solution based questions. Example – “What about this doesn’t work for you?” “What would you need to make it work?” “It seems like there’s something here that bothers you.”

There are three kinds of Yes – counterfeit, confirmation, and commitment.

  • Counterfeit – uses yes as an escape
  • Confirmation – mostly just an affirmation
  • Commitment – signature at the bottom of a contract

In negotiation, using a question to get a “No” makes the person feel like they are in cotnrol. Why? Because no feels good to say and makes you feel safe and secure. It’s an affirmation of autonomy. 

Example – “Is now a bad time to talk?” 

Emails getting ignored – Provoke a “No” with “Have you give up on this project?” 

Don’t be afraid of someone saying No. Actually embrace it and get them to say No early on with certain questions. By asking the right questions and getting them to say no, they feel in control and safe and more likely to be open. Then you can find out what they want and define it for you. Yes allows them to have boundaries and gain a sense of autonomy.

Some examples at work: “Is now a bad time to talk?” “Do you feel that if everything in your business stayed the same, your best days are ahead of you?” Intentionally mislabel one of their emotions or desires to provoke a No.

Don’t push for yes. People can fake a yes just to get you to shut up. Instead push for No because it will give them a sense of control. Just because someone says No doesn’t mean the negotiation is over perhaps it just means “I’m not ready yet.” Or “I don’t understand.” No is not failure. 

Get to a “That’s right” instead of a yes.

“Thats right” is better than yes. Getting someone to say that in a negotiation is a breakthrough. You get someone to say that by using a summary = label + paraphrasing. Identify the world according to them, rearticulate that, and emotionally affirm it. People want to feel like they are understood. It lets their guard down.

Technique: Bend Their Reality

You can start a negotiation with an accusation audit when you know they’re going to be against the deal to begin with. Accusation audit and a play on loss aversion. Anchor their emotions in low expectations.

Establish a range in which the low number is what you actually want. Example – $8,000 – $11,000 in which $8k is what you want. If you do a different range $5,000-$8,000, $5k looks way cheaper. Expect them to come in on the low end of the range.

Pivot to nonmonetary terms. What is cheap to us but valuable to them? This sweetens the deal and makes it more attractive. When you can’t lower the price anymore, add in some positive gain that’s not related to money that they desire. 

Use odd numbers. $10,000 vs $9,879 use them to fortify your offering. Specific odd numbers look more unmovable than zeros at the end.

“People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart see that there is something to lose by inaction.”

Create the illusion of control. “He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.”

Don’t ask questions that can be answered Yes or No. Instead use “What”, “How”, and sometimes “Why”. 

Examples: What about this doesn’t work for you? How does this look to you? What caused you to do that? What about this is important to you? How would you like me to proceed? How am I supposed to do that? 

Use calibrated HOW questions to say No and force them to answer the question. By answering the question they will feel in control and as if its their own solution. Yes is nothing without a how. 

“At the end of the day the deal killers often are more important that the deal makers.”

Deal killers are people who have significant influence and are against your deal. It only takes one of them to screw up a deal.

Types of Bargainers

There’s 3 archetypes of bargainers – accommodators, assertive, and analysts. 

Analysts love data, take longer to think about things, hate surprises, and want the bargain to be logical and focused. 

Accommodators – “They want to remain friends with their counterpart even if they can’t reach an agreement.” Easy to talk to and very friendly. “They will yield a concession to appease and hope the other side reciprocates.” They are peace -seeking. How do you deal with them?

  • Listen, use calibrated questions
  • Objections can be difficult to uncover
  • They will leave problem areas out because they don’t want to stir up conflict

If you are an accommodator? 

  • Speak up about objections
  • Avoid excess chit-chat


“They don’t worry about future interactions. Business relationships are based on respect, nothing more, and nothing less. They tell rather than ask.“

How do you deal with them?

  • Mirror – calibrated questions
  • Labels – summaries 
  • You need them to say ‘That’s right”
  • Give an inch/ take a mile mentality so beware

We trust people the more they seem similar and see the world the same as us. 

Find the Black Swan

A black swan is information that is unknown that will change the course of the negotiation. 

To people that act irrational and are ill-informed, your job is to “discover what they do not know and supply that information.” For example, a client acts irrational, says things that are completely wrong, they are ill-informed and need the correct logical information. 

Be aware of other interests that get in the way of deals. What might appear crazy and irrational to you is simply that you don’t know the full picture and they may have other interests that are blocking your deal. Try to bring those to light.

When you recognize that your counterpart is not irrational, but simply ill-informed, constrained, or obeying interests that you don’t yet know, your field of movement greatly expands. 

Face to face interactions reveal Black Swans. But need to be in unguarded moments. Formal business meetings and planned negotiation sessions are most guarded moments. Important details are revealed in brief moments before or after a meeting.

When faced with someone who seems irrational or crazy, search for constraints, hidden desires, and bad information.

Book’s Noteworthy Idea

It’s human nature to want to avoid any sort of conflict but we must learn to overcome this tendency. Don’t avoid honest, clear conflict in life, in business, in anything.