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Review: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz

Never Split the Difference draws on Chris Voss’ real-life experience as an FBI negotiator to show how to get the most out of any negotiation in life. While most bargains aren’t a life-or-death matter, Voss’ well-honed tactics are also applicable to less high-stakes matters, like when negotiating for a raise or the price of a new car. In this book review, you’ll learn the techniques of master negotiators so that you can deploy (and defend against) them.

Learn the techniques the FBI uses in hostage negotiations and how they can be applied in other areas of life.


  • Have a lousy salary and want to increase it
  • Are buying a new car or home and want to negotiate better terms
  • Want to improve your listening skills

Review: Never Split the Difference - Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it


Big or small, high or low stakes, our lives are made up negotiations — even more than we may realize. From our jobs to our marriages, so much of human interaction comes down to negotiation. So, learning how to get the most out your negotiations is really learning how to get the most out of life.

Negotiation doesn’t mean bullying or begging. It’s simply asking for what you want in the right way — a way that both maintains a good relationship with the person you’re negotiating with and gets you what you want. That sounds like a tall order, but it might be easier than you think if you follow these proven strategies:

  1. Active listening: Don’t assume what the other person wants or what he or she is going to say — listen first, and then use mirroring, silence, and a calm voice to make the other person feel safe.
  2. Tactical empathy: Recognize the other person’s perspective and use labeling to gain trust and diffuse negative dynamics.
  3. Unconditional positive regard: “That’s right” can be more powerful than “yes” and reaffirming the other person’s worldview is an essential step.
  4. Don’t be afraid of no: Every negotiation begins with a “no.” Acknowledging the other person’s right to use “no” and engaging within his or her worldview is the only way to gain a lasting, meaningful “yes.”
  5. Reframing: Use subtle tools so the other person unconsciously accepts your framing of the conversation will then be more inclined to accept your offer.
  6. Calibrated questions: Use “how” and “what” to avoid yes or no questions and get the other person to expend energy to solve your problems.
  7. Guard against failure: Nonverbal communication, calibrated questions, and an awareness of who is and who isn’t at the table are all useful tools.
  8. Haggling: When it comes down to basic, old-school haggling, be prepared with a step-by-step process that dodges aggressive opposition and helps you go on the offensive.
  9. The “black swan”: Finally, do your research and always be on the lookout for new information that could change everything about your current negotiation.

These skills are based on practicality and emotional intelligence. Chris Voss honed these same negotiation skills in the FBI and then applied them effectively in the business world. You don’t have to be a genius or a prodigy to be an effective negotiator. You just need the right tools and a willingness to embrace everything that negotiation can do.

Once we stop fearing conflict, we can start understanding how conflict can be meaningful, productive, and even collaborative. This summary will show you how.

Be a Mirror

When someone else talks, are you listening or just waiting for your chance to talk? We all know that the latter is considered rude, but in a negotiation, it can be downright disastrous. If you’re preoccupied thinking about and planning your own arguments, you may miss something vital coming from the person you’re negotiating with. Instead, listen and be prepared to be surprised.

Negotiation isn’t simply about building the best arguments so you can win — it’s about building a relationship with the other person. And the best way to do that is to listen attentively to what that person has to say and make him or her feel listened to. Don’t assume you already know what the other person wants.

When you speak, start by using two simple tricks to put the other person at ease and build a relationship. First, use a soft, slow, late-night radio DJ voice. Slowing down can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to set the stage for a successful negotiation.

Second, practice mirroring — that is, simply repeat the last few key words the other person spoke. This can be amazingly effective. In a study involving waiters, it was found that those who used mirroring language earned 70% more in tips than those using generically positive responses like “great.” In negotiating, this makes the person feel listened to and will often prompt him or her to elaborate.

When dealing with an overly aggressive personality, use a calm voice, a smile, mirroring, and strategic silence so you don’t escalate the situation.

Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It

Emotions are an integral part of negotiation, and tactical empathy can be one of your greatest assets. Recognizing the other person’s perspective and giving voice to it can work wonders. You don’t have to agree or even sympathize, but you need to understand what’s important to the other person and why. If you show that you understand, that person will be more willing to work with you.

Labeling is a way of accomplishing this: You took your time to look and listen, now give a name to what you saw. Use phrases like “it looks like,” “it seems like,” and “it sounds like.” These phrases neutralize the negative and reinforce the positive. Observe any negative emotions without judgment, and then insert some compassionate, solution-based thoughts to address it.

Also, label the other person’s fears — bringing fears out into the open can help diminish them. One way to do this is an “accusation audit.” That is, label the fears the other person may have about you and what you’re proposing. Denying those fears or misgivings will often give them more credence, whereas acknowledging them lessens their power and opens the door to address them.

Beware ‘Yes’ — Master ‘No’

When telemarketers call you, everything in their script is designed to get you to say yes — as quickly and as often as possible. “Do you enjoy a nice glass of water?” “Do you like clean-tasting water, with no chemical after taste?” You’re compelled to say yes, but you hate saying it. And each of those yeses isn’t getting you any closer to buying the product.

On the other hand, having someone say no is an opportunity for you and the other person to clarify what you want by eliminating what you don’t. “No” is where the negotiation really begins, and letting the other person know they can say no may bring them closer to ultimately agreeing with you. That’s why it’s important to get them to say it early. Then try asking something like, “What would you need to make this work?” or “What about this doesn’t work for you?”

Saying yes doesn’t always mean commitment — sometimes it’s just a way to get out of a conversation. Saying no allows the real issues to be brought up, gives people a chance to process so they’re ready to commit, and makes people feel safe and in control of their decisions. A person who feels free to say no is much more likely to say a truthful, committed yes.

Trigger the Two Words That Immediately Transform Any Negotiation

Psychologist Carl Rogers proposed that real change can only occur once a client has received acceptance from their therapist. Until then, a person is much more likely to simply hide what they’re doing.

When a doctor tells their patient they need to change their diet and exercise more, and the patient says, “Yes, of course I will,” how often do they actually do it? Statistically, almost never. That “yes” is meaningless. “You’re right” can be even worse — when have you said that to someone and then actually taken their advice?

What you want to hear is “that’s right” — you want the person to pronounce what you say as correct themselves, of their own volition. So how do you get that? Start with listening, mirroring, and labeling. Then, paraphrase what was said in your own words to show the other person you really understand. Finally, summarize. Lay out the person’s own worldview and get a “that’s right” confirmation.

Getting this is a great first step to having that person be more receptive to what you have to say.

Bend Their Reality

In a negotiation, compromise is never the goal. That may seem overly aggressive, but consider this: If there are four hostages, the goal isn’t to rescue only two of them, now is it? But even in less high-stakes situations, compromise often leads to neither party being happy. So don’t settle and take the easy way out — use every tool at your disposal, and always remember that no deal is still better than a bad deal.

With that said, here are some tools to use to your advantage.

Deadlines in negotiations are arbitrary and rarely produce the consequences they threaten. By realizing this, you can take the pressure off yourself and realize that you have all the time you need. Conversely, you can use arbitrary deadlines to put pressure on the other party.

There’s no objective fair, and everyone has their own ideas about what is or isn’t fair. This assessment is more emotional than logical — things feel fair, or they don’t. Using the word “fair” in negotiation can be a useful tool, but it’s also powerful and needs to be used with care.

The most positive way to use “fair” is to set it up early; say, “I want you to feel that I’m treating you fairly, so let me know if you feel that I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.” Right away, you’ve set yourself up as someone trustworthy. But you should also be wary of reactive exclamations of “I just want what’s fair” or manipulative tactics like “I’m giving you a fair offer.”

Also, try not to be taken in by these same tactics.

Look for the emotional driver behind the other party’s wants and see if you can frame any of your offers in language that will resonate.

Avoiding loss can be a more powerful motivator than the promise of gain, so reframe things so that the other person feels like he or she may be losing out on something by not accepting your offer.

Other ways you can bend their reality:

  • Let the other party start the negotiation so you can counter with confidence.
  • Give ballpark figures rather than specific numbers. A Columbia Business School study found that people who gave ranges were offered significantly higher salaries.
  • Offer non-monetary things that might not be important to you but might sway the other person. For example, being allowed to work from home once a week might not matter to your company’s bottom line, but it might mean a lot to the applicant.

There are lots of ways you can bend the other person’s perception of the situation to give yourself an advantage. Remember, what’s considered a good deal is often just a matter of perspective.

Create the Illusion of Control

During a kidnapping case in Pittsburgh, a drug dealer stumbled onto a very effective hostage negotiation technique. This drug dealer’s girlfriend had been kidnapped by another drug dealer, and he went to the FBI for help. He sat with the FBI agents as they talked on the phone with the kidnapper who had his girlfriend.

The standard procedure was to ask for solid proof of life — some fact or detail only she would know. Without being coached, the man blurted out to the kidnapper, “How do I know she’s all right?” The kidnapper paused…and then offered to put her on the phone.

It was that “how” question that was key. By asking such an open-ended question, the other person is put in the position to solve your problem. “How am I supposed to do that?” “What am I supposed to do about that?” “What are we trying to accomplish here?” Questions like these imply that you both want the same thing, but you need the other person’s know-how or intelligence to fix the problem.

Instead of direct confrontation, use carefully calibrated open-ended questions to guide others to your way of thinking.

Guarantee Execution

“How” can be one of your most powerful tools. Ask calibrated “how” questions to keep the other person off balance but still engaged. Asking “how can I do that?” is effectively saying no. Asking “how does this affect so and so?” gauges the motivations of important players not directly at the table. You can also use “how” questions, along with summaries and labels, to get the other person to reaffirm their commitment so you know their agreement is for real.

It’s also important to pay attention to body language and tone of voice — much of our communication is nonverbal, after all. In fact, it’s estimated that only 7% of communication is based on the words we say, 38% is tone of voice, and the rest is nonverbal cues. Always remember to listen and pay attention to the other person, while presenting yourself as a real, empathetic human being.

Bargain Hard

Eventually, you’ll probably get to a point where it’s down to good, old-fashioned bargaining. When that point comes, be ready to bargain hard. Be prepared, know your limits, and be ready to walk if things don’t go the way you want them to. Remember, no deal is still better than a bad deal. Most importantly, be ready to push back without getting angry. One way to help with that is to identify the other person’s negotiating style — as well as being aware of your own.

There are three basic styles: analyst, accommodator, and assertive. They each have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s good to be aware of how they interact.

Analysts are methodical and patient — they’d rather take the time to make sure everything gets done right. They often like to work alone and speaking to you at all may be viewed as a concession. They’re skeptical and are not quick to answer questions. However, they do respond to reciprocity. Also, silence is time for them to think, so try not to interrupt their silence. If you think you may be an analyst type, be aware if you’re cutting yourself off from your negotiating partner — a little smile can go a long way. Remember that the other person is your biggest source of important data.

Accommodators are great at building relationships, and they’ll want to resolve things amicably if possible. They may get distracted easily, so be sure to use questions to gently nudge them back on track. Finding their real objections might be difficult — be patient and always remember to keep things friendly. If you’re an accommodator, remember that your sociability is an asset but don’t be afraid to share your concerns or objections. Your point of view is valuable and voicing objections, if done properly, won’t lead to disaster. Also, watch out for that tendency to chit chat too much!

Assertive types are direct, candid, and love winning. They want to be heard and likely won’t be able to listen until they feel they’re heard first. Use your mirroring, labels, and summaries to make them feel they’re being listened to so that they’re more receptive to hearing your point of view. Assertive types are also very reluctant to give any concessions. If this is your type, be very careful with your tone, as you may come off as overly harsh when you don’t intend to be. Work on making yourself more approachable and hone those listening skills!

Once you’re aware of these tendencies in different types of people, it’s easier to see what’s going on at the negotiating table without becoming angry or frustrated at the person sitting across from you.

Find the Black Swan

A “black swan” can best be described as the thing we didn’t know we didn’t know. Before the 17th century in Europe, people could only think of swans as white. That’s all they knew. No one ever thought to look for a swan of any other color. But then, in 1697, a black swan was discovered in Western Australia, and what was previously thought to be fact was proven false.

In negotiation, a black swan is that piece of information that you didn’t know to look for but that changes everything. These black swans are hard to find, but they can be invaluable in terms of leverage. So, always review everything and be ready to shift if you encounter new information. Dig in and question things. Use what you know but don’t be blinded by what you know to the point that you’re inflexible. Most importantly, when someone you’re negotiating with is acting “crazy,” remember that they probably aren’t. Either they don’t have all the information — or you don’t.


Negotiation can be intimidating, but in truth, honest conflict is nothing to fear. In fact, it can be an opportunity to learn, grow, and form deeper connections with those around you. All you have to do is:

  • Practice active listening.
  • Apply tactical empathy.
  • Remember “that’s right” is more powerful than “yes.”
  • Don’t be afraid of “no.”
  • Reframe the conversation.
  • Use calibrated questions.
  • Guard against failure.
  • Haggle hard.
  • And be on the lookout for any “black swans.”

When managed well — when approached with empathy and respect for all involved, including yourself — these tactics can result in creative solutions and be incredibly satisfying. Be clear about what you want, what you can do, and what you can’t do. Seek out that same clarity from others as well. Never settle for a bad deal and never split the difference.

About the Author

Chris Voss is a business school professor, former FBI hostage negotiator, andCEO of The Black Swan Group Ltd. Tahl Raz is an award-winning journalist andbestselling author.


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


The book is a practical guide to negotiation that teaches you how to use the skills and strategies of a former FBI hostage negotiator to get what you want in any situation. The authors, Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz, are experts in the field of negotiation and communication. Voss is a former FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator who has dealt with some of the most dangerous and high-stakes situations in the world. Raz is a journalist and co-author of several best-selling books on business and psychology.

The book is divided into ten chapters, each focusing on a key principle or technique of negotiation, such as:

  • The New Rules of Negotiation – how to shift your mindset from compromise to collaboration and create win-win outcomes
  • Be a Mirror – how to use active listening and empathy to build rapport and trust with your counterpart
  • Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It – how to use verbal labels to acknowledge and defuse negative emotions and influence positive ones
  • Beware “Yes” – Master “No” – how to avoid false agreements and use “no” as a tool to clarify and protect your interests
  • Trigger the Two Words That Immediately Transform Any Negotiation – how to use calibrated questions to elicit “that’s right” responses that confirm understanding and agreement
  • Bend Their Reality – how to use anchors, deadlines, loss aversion, and framing to shape your counterpart’s perception of value and reality
  • Create the Illusion of Control – how to use open-ended questions, silence, and minimal encouragers to make your counterpart feel in charge and reveal more information
  • Guarantee Execution – how to use summaries, rule of three, and objective criteria to ensure commitment and follow-through
  • Bargain Hard – how to use acknowledgments, accusations audits, nonverbal communication, and pivots to overcome objections and impasses
  • Find the Black Swan – how to uncover hidden information, unknown unknowns, and leverage points that can change everything

The book is full of practical tips, examples, anecdotes, and insights from Voss’s own experience as well as from other successful negotiators such as business leaders, lawyers, diplomats, salespeople, and more. The book also includes exercises, questions, and challenges for the readers to apply the concepts and principles to their own negotiations.

The book is an inspiring and informative guide for anyone who wants to learn how to negotiate effectively and efficiently. Voss’s writing style is engaging, conversational, and humorous. He uses simple language, analogies, metaphors, stories, and examples to explain complex concepts and convey his messages. He also injects optimism, passion, and empathy into his writing, making it more relatable and motivating.

The book is based on solid research and evidence from various fields such as psychology, neuroscience, sociology, criminology, and game theory. Voss cites numerous studies and references to support his claims and arguments. He also draws on his own personal and professional experience as a researcher, teacher, coach, consultant, speaker, and author. He shares his own stories of struggle and success with negotiation in various contexts such as hostage situations, business deals, personal relationships, and more.

The book is not a one-size-fits-all solution or a formula for success. Rather, it is a comprehensive and holistic approach that acknowledges the complexity and diversity of human emotions and interactions. Voss does not claim to have all the answers or the ultimate solutions.

The book is not without its flaws or criticisms. Some may find it too optimistic or unrealistic in its assumptions or projections. Some may disagree with its priorities or perspectives on certain issues or solutions. Some may question its sources or evidence base or its balance or objectivity. Some may challenge its authority or credibility or its motives or interests. Some may point out its gaps or omissions or its contradictions or inconsistencies. Some may argue that it does not go far enough or fast enough or deep enough in addressing the root causes or systemic factors that affect negotiation.

Overall, however, the book is a valuable and influential resource for anyone who is interested in learning more about negotiation and how to practice it in their personal and professional lives. It is also a powerful call to action for everyone who cares about getting what they want in any situation. It challenges us to think differently and act differently in pursuit of our goals and values. It reminds us that we are all negotiators and communicators in this complex and dynamic world. And it urges us not to split the difference, but to create the difference.

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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