Chris Voss - “Never Split The Difference”

The best book on negotiation I’ve ever read. I successfully used the techniques described in it many times, including during some pivotal moments in my life. It does change how you perceive dealing with other people. What follows is a working synopsis that I come back to every now and then.

Embrace regular thoughtful conflict.

  • it’s the basis of effective communication, and life in general
  • pushing hard for something you believe is not selfish
  • uncover value; negotiation is ultimately cooperative


  • Compromise is worse than no deal
  • “Yes” is nothing without “How”
  • At least 3 Black Swans exist in every negotiation
  • Deadlines are imaginary and arbitrary


  • At least 4 seconds.
  • Listening is an art.
  • Provide short responses to encourage the counterpart to keep going: “yes”, “okay”, “tell me more”, “keep going”.
  • Make time your ally using deadlines. Remember: they are imaginary and arbitrary.

Calibrated (open-ended) questions.

  • prefer “How” and “What”
  • avoid questions with simple informational questions (who, when)
  • avoid “Why”, it makes people defensive


  • repeat the last thing said as a question


  • “It seems like you…”, “It sounds like…”
  • amygdala (fear processing) avoids conflict naturally; ignore it in yourself and use it in the counterpart
  • empathy is powerful
  • the adversary is the situation, the person is a partner
  • pushing hard is not unfair
  • don’t avoid honest conflict
    “Look, I’m an asshole.”

Accusation audit.

Embrace “No.”

  • “Have you given up on this project?”
  • “Is it a bad time to talk?”
  • Get to “That’s right.” which lets them own the conclusion
  • Get three “Yes.” to confirm it’s the real deal
  • Say “No” without using the word

It’s not about you.

  • Get the counterpart to come up with your solution as their own.
  • Create a subtle epiphany to get to “That’s right”. Trigger it by summing up (paraphrasing with a label).
  • The listener controls the conversation.

Anchoring emotions.

  • without self-control you cannot expect to influence others
  • direct others to spend intellectual energy to solve your problem

Extreme anchors.

  • offers made too early give up leverage: pivot to terms
  • Ackerman haggling model:
    • start extremely low, at 65% to bend the counterpart’s reality
    • perform three decreasing increments: 85% (+20), 95%, (+10) 100% (+5)

Black swans.

  • Black swans = unknown unknowns that change the game
    • they give a lot of leverage
  • Leverage
    • positive: ability to provide what the counterpart wants
    • negative: threats, ties to loss aversion; audience, status, reputation. Nuclear bombs, never make direct threats and be very careful about subtle ones. Negative threats take away autonomy.
    • normative: moral framework, looking for inconsistencies between actions and beliefs
  • When the counterpart appears crazy
    • not well informed
    • constrained in a way they don’t want to share
    • obeying unknown interests
  • Finding black swans
    • look for signs of “crazy”, it’s a good thing, not a bad thing
    • you have to recognize and acknowledge the counterpart’s reality, you don’t have to agree with it
    • get face time
      • direct human interaction: 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.)
      • observe unguarded moments

Negotiation One-Sheet

  • Customized tools to a particular negotiation
  • You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of preparation
  • No script: they are not agile enough
  • The goal
    • go for: best-case scenario
      • high-end goal
      • defined clearly, optimistic but reasonable
      • also important, to have a winning mindset
    • avoid: BATNA - worst-case scenario
      • low-end goal
      • warning: it tricks your mind to aim low; it’s easier to claim wins that way ("wimp-win mentality")
  • Summary
    • why are you there
    • what do you want
    • what do they want and why
    • known facts that lead to the negotation
    • helps with tactical empathy
    • you must have a summary that leads to the “That’s right”
  • Labels and Accusation Audit
    • a list of a few accusations they might make
      • turn each into 3-5 labels
      • “It’s seems like … is valuable to you”
      • “It looks like … you don’t like …”
      • “It feels like … you value …”
      • “It seems like … you want …”
  • Calibrated questions
    • you must accept the reality of the other people
    • reveal value to you
      • “What are we trying to accomplish?”
      • “What’s the core issue here?”
      • “How does that affect things?”
      • “What’s the biggest challenge you face?”
      • “How does this fit into what the objective is?”
    • identify and overcome hidden actors
      • “How does this affect the rest of the team?”
      • “How on board are the people not on this call?”
      • “What do your colleagues see as the main challenges in this area?”
    • identify and overcome deal breakers (ask in groups of 2-3 at a time)
      • “What are we up against here?”
      • “What is the biggest challenge you face?”
      • “What happens if you do nothing?"/"What does doing nothing cost you?”
      • “How does making a deal with us affect things?”
      • “How does making this deal resonate with what the company prides itself on?”
      • use labels to follow up quickly
    • getting buy-in
      • “How does that/this fit?”
      • “What makes you ask?”
      • “How do we know your team is on board?”
  • Non-cash items
    • what could they give that would almost make us to do it for free?
    • low cost for them, advances your interests considerably

#Books #Negotiation