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Summary: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

  • “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss offers practical negotiation techniques based on his experience as an FBI hostage negotiator.
  • The book emphasizes tactical empathy, understanding emotions, and challenging conventional win-win negotiation methods.
  • It provides real-world examples and engaging storytelling, making it a valuable resource for improving negotiation skills in various contexts.

Never Split the Difference (2016) is your guide to getting what you want. Drawing on FBI strategies, it offers hands-on advice for how to negotiate your way to success – whether it’s in the office, the home, or a hostage standoff.

Introduction: Become a master negotiator.

Have you ever felt like you came out on the losing side of a discussion, whether it was at home or in the workplace? Have you ever felt that you didn’t know how to get what you wanted out of a negotiation?

If so, you’re in the right place! This summary highlights how negotiation comes up in your everyday life. It walks you through several techniques that’ll arm you with the confidence and skills to make the most out of your negotiations – and keep your losses to a minimum.

It won’t teach you problem-solving; conflict is, to some extent, inevitable. But it will give you the tools to get the results you want – drawing on the expertise of Chris Voss, a former lead FBI negotiation expert.

In this summary, you’ll also learn

  • which emotional characteristic is your strongest weapon;
  • what kind of voice to use when negotiating; and
  • how labeling can save lives.

[Book Summary] Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Negotiation is a part of life – and there’s more to it than rationality and intellect.

Let’s start by laying some common ground. Negotiation is not just something reserved for lawyers, corporate boardrooms, and the FBI – it’s a part of everyday life. It happens at work and with friends, your partner, and even your kids who beg to stay up past their bedtime or have one last try at a videogame level. Every time there are two or more people who want different outcomes from the same situation, negotiation comes into play.

So, what makes for a successful negotiator? Well, accepting that your life is filled with and fueled by negotiation is the first step. There are lots of ways to negotiate, but the most effective techniques incorporate human nature. Connecting with others in a psychologically conscious way will help you understand your own mind as well as your peers’ motives – which will give you a significant advantage. Let’s see how.

For years, negotiation theory was based on the assumption that people acted rationally. But more recent studies, like the one by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, revealed that the majority of people actually act irrationally and unpredictably. That’s because their behavior is governed by a series of psychological mechanisms called cognitive biases. There are over 150 of them – but the main point is this: people act instinctively, emotionally, and irrationally.

Even rational thoughts are often influenced by irrational ones. And since rational thoughts take longer to formulate, people tend to default to irrationality. Just think about how you came up with that perfect comeback or answer to a discussion – minutes or hours after it ended!

There’s one key technique to negotiating effectively, and that’s listening. In order to gain knowledge of how a person thinks and feels, you have to listen actively, strategically, and empathetically.

Let’s look at some techniques to put this active listening into practice.

Apply active listening techniques to your everyday interactions to build trust.

“Cheeseburger, no onions, sure. And for you?” Have you ever experienced this situation – where a waiter repeats your order after you say it? This is called mirroring, and it’s a technique you can use to develop trust with someone.

Trust is a key element in negotiation. It’ll give you information about how the other person thinks and feels. And by understanding their wants and needs, you’ll be able to predict how they’ll act. This is where active listening comes in.

By actively listening to your counterpart, you’ll achieve two things: First, you’ll stop listening to your own irrational biases. And second, you’ll make the person in front of you feel safe. You’ll start talking about their wants, which will help you discover their needs.

That’s why mirroring is such a simple but enormously effective technique. When you copy another person’s behavior or words, you comfort them. They get the feeling that you’re similar to them, which generates trust and gets them to talk more. So just as a waiter repeating your order at a restaurant conveys that they “got it,” when you repeat another person’s words, they feel you “get them.”

Furthermore, mirroring transmits the feeling that you want to better understand what the other person is saying. This will make them reword their statement – and hopefully disclose more information.

Another useful technique is the deliberate use of your voice. The voice is one of the key instruments used in negotiations – sometimes the only one – and your tone can heavily influence the outcome.

There are two main voice tones to focus on here. The first is positive and playful; this should be your default voice. Try to speak while smiling, and you’ll notice that your voice has an easygoing tone – that’s what you’re aiming for. When you project a positive attitude, people are more likely to collaborate with you and find a solution to the problem. The second voice is the late-night FM DJ voice, which should be used selectively. It includes a downward inflection and has a calm, slow pace. If used correctly, it should create a feeling of authority without triggering defensiveness. And it should communicate that you’re in control of the situation – but generate a safe space for both parties.

Decide which techniques to use and draft a negotiation roadmap according to the personality of your counterpart. Then hone your rapport and keep the conversation flowing to build trust.

Emotion and empathy are tools you can use to create trust.

Listening can shed light on someone’s emotions – the main instruments for a successful negotiation. A psychotherapist dives deep into their patient’s emotions to understand their problems and get them to change their behavior. In the same way, the more you can understand your counterpart’s emotions, the more you can influence their actions to your advantage.

Picture this situation. You’ve waited for this day for months – your boss has finally made some time to meet and discuss your salary. You tell them about all the projects you’ve completed, all the extra time you’ve worked, how well you’ve performed, and how you deserve a 10 percent increase. But all you get is a pat on the back while they say, “You’re doing OK, just hold tight. There’s no budget for a raise right now.” You’re devastated, angry, and sad. You’ve put in so much work, but it seems they don’t value or even try to empathize with you!

A scene like this would probably make you less empathetic in turn, which would close you off to the possibility of resolution.

Empathy – more precisely, tactical empathy – is key to keeping a negotiation open and forward-moving. Empathy entails trying to understand what another person is feeling; it’s putting yourself in their shoes. Tactical empathy is all this and more. It involves trying to hear what’s behind those feelings so you can increase your influence on them. It’s emotional intelligence combined with strategic thinking.

The technique associated with tactical empathy is called labeling. It consists of recognizing and verbalizing your counterpart’s emotions. In this way, you validate and acknowledge them; you act as if you feel the emotions yourself, which again leads to trust.

It may sound easy, but detecting emotions is something that needs to be learned. The first step is to become aware of body language and voice inflections. When talking about a certain subject, the tiniest clench of the lips or movement of the hands can say a lot about a person’s feelings toward it.

To formulate labels, take yourself out of the equation. Start your sentences with “It sounds like” or “It looks like.” By taking out the “I,” you demonstrate a selfless, more empathetic interest. And after uttering a label, be quiet so that your counterpart has space to expand on it. A label is not a question; it’s a statement, which makes the spectrum of answers quite wide.

Labeling works because it addresses underlying emotions rather than superficial ones – and it does so in a way that can diffuse any negative feelings.

Let’s go back to the salary discussion example. Instead of insisting on your achievements and long hours, maybe you answer something like, “It sounds like you’re under pressure from upper management.” In turn, they recount some internal management issues and their feelings toward them. You’ve gained their trust, which is why they now say, “I know you’ve been working hard, and I truly appreciate it. Let me see how I can move some numbers and get you an incentive.” Through this approach, you show your boss that you understand their position – which makes them more open to understanding yours.

Ultimately, empathy is a human instinct. It’ll allow you to create more meaningful connections and have healthy relationships while serving as a tool to help you get what you want. After all, everybody wants to be understood!

Just say no!

So far, it’s been all positive thoughts and feelings. You should have a pretty solid tool kit of techniques to generate trust in your counterpart, which will help you gather information about their wants and needs – and direct the negotiation to where you want it to go.

Now let’s get into the negative side. We’ll start by talking about a tiny word we all fear: no. This negative word can be the end of so many ideas. A buzzkill. A fun-stopper. But, for a negotiator, it can be a fundamental weapon – when used right.

Essentially, saying “no” allows you to clarify what you want and don’t want. It gives you control, kicks off the negotiation, and hands you the lead. When you say “no,” you temporarily protect yourself by providing space to consider options in a relaxed way. “No” buys you time, and time gives you opportunities to persuade your counterpart into accepting your position. But your counterpart also has the right to say “no” – and that’s a good thing. By letting them conserve their autonomy, you give them the illusion of control.

So, for instance, if your boss denies you your salary raise, you could force a “no” by asking him, “Are you dissatisfied with my work?” or “Have I been underperforming?” By doing this, you give him the decision-making power – but nudge him into a corner where there isn’t much else he can say.

The next time you find yourself in a negotiation situation, keep this in mind: getting a “no” can be advantageous, so push for it. Find a way – a question – that will generate a “no,” and when you get it, embrace it.

The word “no” can be hard to implement because it’s sometimes interpreted as being mean. “No” creates friction and conflict, yes, but it also allows people to feel safe and in control. Of course, there are many different, more subtle ways to express a negative answer – like asking “how?”

Through disagreement, people’s real desires are expressed; false politeness crumbles to reveal what everyone really wants. By expressing and seeking negativity, you can uncover your counterpart’s thoughts and feelings and get closer to your ultimate goal: a real, committed “yes.”

Don’t compromise, don’t give in, and never, ever split the difference.

Maybe you’ve been taught that the best outcome for a conflict is one where both parties meet halfway, or split the difference. But this can lead to dissatisfaction for everyone involved. Meeting halfway also exposes you to the possibility of being pushed into a corner. That’s why we’re going to explore ways to avoid compromise, and instead create leverage in your favor.

First up: time. Time is an immensely powerful tool that can cause tranquility or anxiety. In negotiations, you can use time to create pressure. By establishing deadlines, you can force your counterpart to make rushed decisions because they’re afraid of losing something in the future. At the same time, most deadlines are flexible. Knowing this, you can confidently use time to your advantage.

Let’s come back to the salary raise discussion. When your boss asks you to give them some time, set a date. Tell yourself that if your raise request isn’t met by then, you’ll start looking for a new job where you feel more appreciated.

The second tool is fairness. We often think we make decisions based on rational thinking. Experience shows that logic is present in describing how we reach these decisions, but the actual moment of decision-making is dictated by emotion. Fairness is linked to logic and respect. If, say, the answer to your salary raise request is a counteroffer, you’ll likely feel that you’re being played and deserve better.

The word “fair” can have a huge influence on your negotiation counterpart. For example, you could tell your boss you “just want what’s fair.” It’s a defensive accusation that can induce feelings of discomfort toward their own actions – a strong statement that comes in handy. Another gentler way of using the word “fair” is to drop it early in the negotiation. When you say you “want to be fair,” you let the other person know you’re taking them into account from the beginning – which boosts our old friend, trust.

People will always act emotionally and irrationally. If you can learn to work with their emotions and perception of reality, you’ll be one step closer to getting what you want.

Find the black swan, and use it to your favor.

Black swans were once thought to be mythical creatures – until they were discovered by Europeans in an expedition during the seventeenth century. As a metaphor, a black swan represents the discovery of something unforeseen, surprising, presumed to be impossible. In a negotiation context, a black swan represents the appearance of an unpredictable piece of information. Being able to identify and use black swans to your favor is a critical skill that’ll allow you to generate breakthroughs in your negotiations. Let’s discover how.

In most negotiations, there’s some information about your counterpart that you know for sure – like their name or offer. Then there are things that you know exist or are probable – like the possibility of your counterpart leaving the negotiation altogether. Finally, there are things you don’t know you don’t know – unimaginable information that would completely twist the outcome. These are the black swans, or unknown unknowns. It’s impossible to totally conjure the unimaginable, so the best you can do is to stay flexible and never overvalue your experience or your knowledge.

There are also a couple techniques you can use to make black swans visible. For starters, ask lots of questions, and be attentive to the nonverbal cues they may trigger. Be open to receiving information beyond what you expected, and then ask yourself why the other person is communicating this right now.

Uncovering black swans is easiest when you’re negotiating in person. There’s no way to get important, deep information through email – virtual, written communication gives people the time to reason and consciously avoid revealing too much. It also conceals voice tones and body language. You also need to be hyperaware – especially outside formal meeting environments, where people are more likely to let their guard down. And try employing tools like mirroring and labeling to unearth useful information.

So say you’ve determined a black swan – now what? A piece of information isn’t worth much if you don’t know how to use it. Discovering a black swan gives you one essential thing: leverage.

If you possess something your counterpart wants, you already have positive leverage – the ability to make their desire come true. So by learning what they truly want, you can ask for what you want in return.

Negative leverage, on the other hand, is closer to a threat. It draws on a basic cognitive bias called loss aversion. Negative leverage entails making the other person know you have the ability to make them lose something if they don’t accept your offer. So learn what’s important to your counterpart – maybe it’s their reputation or status within a community – and use this to your advantage.

Negative leverage is dangerous and should be used with caution. Issuing threats can result in very toxic negotiations, which can potentially ruin a good relationship. Instead, try combining labeling with negative leverage. For example, say, “It seems that you value the reputation you’ve built.”

Finally, normative leverage is using the other person’s set of rules and moral principles to your advantage. If you have evidence that demonstrates discrepancies between a person’s words and actions, you have normative leverage. To understand their ideas, you just need to ask questions and be attentive to their answers.

Remember, perception is key. Keep your senses alert, and search for anything that could give you unexpected information about your counterpart. In this way, you’ll be able to get ahead in any negotiation.


“A woman wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome. Either of the two other outcomes—black or brown—would be better than the compromise. Next time you want to compromise, remind yourself of those mismatched shoes.”‐ Chris Voss

How can you get what you want in a negotiation without compromising?

Author Chris Voss was the lead hostage negotiator for the FBI. After dozens of high‐stakes negotiations with kidnappers around the world (and later with business people around the world as a consultant), Chris Voss has learned that getting what he wants, avoiding compromises, and making the other side feel like they were treated fairly requires tactical empathy.

Tactical empathy is the act of sincerely empathizing with your counterpart’s situation and then getting them to empathize with your situation.

Be Empathetic

During a psychotherapy session, a psychiatrist encourages a patient to talk while he or she listens intensely. Psychiatrists know that a patient will be defensive and oppositional to change until they feel heard.

The same is true for a negotiation. During a negotiation, your counterpart will resist any offer you make until you prove to them that you understand what they’re saying and how they’re feeling.

That’s why the first goal of a negotiation is to listen closely to the cares and concerns your counterpart has, and then summarize their cares and concerns with a statement that starts with “it seems like…” or “it sounds like…”

“It seems like you’re really concerned about ______________.” OR “It sounds like ______________ is really important to you.”

The beauty of these statements is if you’re wrong you won’t damage the conversation, since you can follow‐up your statement with “I didn’t say that how it was, it just seems that way.”

However, if your counterpart affirms your summary statement with “that’s right,” then you’ll know that you you’ve made them feel heard. After you hear a “that’s right”, your counterpart will be open to what you have to say and willing to move off their initial position.

Ask for Empathy

Now that you’ve built rapport with your counterpart by being empathic to their situation, ask them to return the favor. Get them thinking about your challenges and coming up with solutions to your problem.

The best way to get your counterpart thinking about and solving one of your problems is to counter their proposals by asking “How am I supposed to do that?”

Let’s say you were renting an apartment, and your landlord tells you he is going to increase the rent from $1200/month to $1500/month. In this situation, you could respond with, “It seems like you’re concerned that your apartment unit is under‐valued, and you want what’s fair, but how am I supposed to pay $1500/month when I only make enough at work to afford $1200/month?”

The key is to say, “How am I supposed to do that?” the same way you would say, “I value your intelligence, can you please help me solve my problem?”

If you’ve made your counterpart feel heard and built rapport with them, then ask your counterpart the calibrated question, “How am I supposed to do that?” Your counterpart will most likely do one of two things:

  1. Generate a creative solution so that both of you can get what you value most.
  2. Raise or lower their initial demand to accommodate you.

If they counter with an offer that doesn’t meet your needs, you simply respond with a slightly different calibrated question. Back to the rental example, if your landlord but reduced his rent to $1400/month, you would respond with “that’s very generous of you and that’s probably the lowest you can go, but I’m sorry, I just don’t see how I’m supposed to pay $1400/month to stay here when can I rent a similar apartment nearby for less than $1200/month.”

“He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.” – Chris Voss


The key message in this summary is this:

You can constructively negotiate your way through life by practicing psychological awareness and employing simple techniques like active listening and saying “no.” Remember, people just want to feel like they’re understood and are able to trust you. Negotiations are all unique; it’s important to hone your skills and have them at hand so you’re prepared for anything. And when you find a black swan, take it and use it wisely!

About the author

Chris Voss is one of the preeminent practitioners and professors of negotiation skills in the world. He is the founder and principal of The Black Swan Group, a consulting firm that provides training and advises Fortune 500 companies through complex negotiations. He currently teaches at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and has lectured at other leading universities, including Harvard Law School, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Tahl Raz uncovers big ideas and great stories that ignite change and growth in people and organizations. He is an award-winning journalist and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Never Eat Alone. When not researching or writing, he coaches executives, lectures widely on the forces transforming the new world of work, and serves as an editorial consultant for several national firms.


Communication Skills, Management, Leadership, Career Success, Psychology, Personal Development, Entrepreneurship, Business Negotiating, Success Self-Help


“Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” is a highly regarded book authored by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, and Tahl Raz. The book offers a unique perspective on negotiation, drawing from Voss’s extensive experience in high-stakes, life-and-death negotiations. Here is a comprehensive summary and review of the book:

The book is divided into several chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of negotiation and offering practical techniques that can be applied in various scenarios, both in personal and professional life. The key concepts and strategies explored in the book include:

  1. The Black Swan Method: Voss introduces his Black Swan method, emphasizing the importance of empathetic and tactical negotiation. This approach challenges the conventional wisdom of win-win negotiations and focuses on finding solutions that satisfy both parties.
  2. Tactical Empathy: Voss highlights the significance of understanding and influencing the emotions of the other party in a negotiation. He discusses the power of active listening and how mirroring and labeling can be used to build rapport and gather valuable information.
  3. The Importance of “No”: Voss argues that “no” is not the end of a negotiation but the beginning of a potential agreement. He explains how to use the “no” response as a tool to gain control and move the negotiation forward.
  4. Calibrated Questions: The book provides a framework for asking open-ended questions that encourage the other party to share information and reveal their true motivations.
  5. The Accusation Audit: This technique involves acknowledging and addressing potential concerns or objections before the other party can raise them, which helps disarm their resistance.
  6. Negotiation in the Real World: Voss shares numerous real-life stories and examples from his experiences as an FBI negotiator, illustrating how the concepts and techniques presented in the book have been successfully applied.
  7. The “That’s Right” Moment: The book discusses the power of getting the other party to acknowledge that you understand their perspective, which can be a breakthrough moment in a negotiation.
  8. The Emotional Bank Account: Voss suggests building trust and rapport by consistently making deposits into the emotional bank account with the other party through small concessions and acts of goodwill.

“Never Split the Difference” is a compelling and insightful book that offers a fresh perspective on negotiation. Chris Voss’s expertise as an FBI hostage negotiator lends credibility to the techniques and strategies he presents. Here are some key strengths and highlights of the book:

  1. Practical and Actionable: The book provides concrete, practical strategies and techniques that can be applied immediately in a wide range of negotiation scenarios. Whether you’re negotiating a business deal, a salary, or resolving personal conflicts, the principles are universally applicable.
  2. Engaging Narrative: Voss’s storytelling and real-world examples make the book engaging and relatable. The reader gains valuable insights into the mindset of a professional negotiator through gripping anecdotes.
  3. Emphasis on Empathy: The book emphasizes the importance of understanding and acknowledging the emotions of the other party, which is often overlooked in negotiation literature. The concept of “tactical empathy” is a standout feature.
  4. Challenges Conventional Wisdom: Voss challenges the traditional win-win negotiation model, offering a counterintuitive approach that can lead to more successful outcomes.
  5. High-Stakes Experience: The book’s credibility is enhanced by Voss’s experience in high-stakes negotiations, making it more compelling and trustworthy.

While “Never Split the Difference” is packed with valuable insights, some readers might find the content a bit repetitive, as the key concepts are reiterated throughout the book. Additionally, the aggressive and high-stakes tone may not be suitable for all negotiation contexts, and it may not resonate with everyone’s personal style.

In conclusion, “Never Split the Difference” is an invaluable resource for anyone looking to enhance their negotiation skills. Chris Voss provides a unique and battle-tested perspective on negotiation that challenges traditional approaches and offers a refreshing alternative. Whether you’re a business professional, a salesperson, or just someone interested in improving your interpersonal communication, this book is a must-read. It equips you with practical tools to negotiate effectively and achieve better outcomes in various aspects of your life.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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