Book Summary of Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss is a guide to negotiation theory and strategy that focuses on the importance of emotional intelligence. Voss argues that successful negotiation requires understanding and empathizing with the emotions of the other party in order to build trust and get them to let their guard down.

The Emotional Basis of Negotiation

Voss claims that understanding and addressing the emotional needs of feeling secure and in control is key to successful negotiations. By navigating these emotional truths, negotiators can uncover their counterpart’s real desires and fears.

Calculated Empathy: Make Them Feel Safe

Voss recommends using calculated empathy to understand your counterpart’s feelings and gain insight into their behavior. By doing so, you can create a sense of emotional safety, which is crucial to establishing a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship.

Voss shares five calculated empathy techniques: active listening, using the right tone, reflecting back, labeling emotions, and accusation audits. 

These techniques aim to build rapport with the other person by showing concern for their feelings, reflecting their speech patterns, and identifying and vocalizing their emotions. The use of accusation audits can trigger empathy in the other person by listing negative things they may think about you, making them want to reassure you that you’re not as bad as you’ve portrayed yourself. 

However, it’s important not to misuse this technique by deliberately mislabeling someone else’s perceptions of you.

Put Them in the Driver’s Seat

Voss suggests that apart from using calculated empathy to make your counterpart feel heard and secure, you also need to empower them by giving them control and autonomy in the situation. Essentially, you need to let them take the lead.

Open-Ended Questions

Voss suggests using open-ended “how” or “what” questions to give your counterpart a sense of control and autonomy. For instance, when faced with an unfavorable offer, asking “How am I supposed to do that?” prompts the other person to provide solutions to the problem. This approach puts your counterpart to work and can lead to more favorable outcomes in negotiations.

Getting the Right Responses

Voss suggests that after showing calculated empathy and putting your counterpart at ease, it’s important to elicit the proper responses from them. “Yes” is often seen as the fool’s gold of negotiation as it can be a false agreement used to end a conversation with someone being too aggressive. This results from our natural tendency to desire others to reciprocate, which causes us to comply with their wishes. In contrast, “No” is a powerful response that can lead to more productive negotiations as it helps clarify issues and can provide an opportunity to explore alternative solutions.

According to Voss, to get a genuine commitment from your counterpart during negotiations, you need to get them to say “no” rather than a false “yes.” Saying “no” gives them a sense of control and independence. Voss suggests asking questions that prompt negative answers to get to “no.” One approach to accomplish this is to purposefully name their feelings or desires incorrectly, which will make them correct you. Another strategy is to probe into their dislikes and give them the flexibility to define their boundaries and comfort zones.

“That’s Right”: Getting Affirmation From Your Counterpart

To summarize, after establishing trust with your counterpart, Voss suggests getting them to say “no” in order to get a real commitment, as it makes them feel in control. Once you have achieved this, you can move on to bringing them around to your perspective. When your counterpart says “that’s right,” it means they have come to embrace your position, and you can now use it to persuade them to your preferred course of action. Voss recommends summarizing their story in your own words to demonstrate that you understand their perspective and earn their respect.

Change Their Perspective

Voss says successful negotiations require understanding that people’s emotions drive their behavior and thoughts. To gain an advantage, you need to appeal to their need for security and autonomy. To do this, you must show them how helping you can satisfy their own desires.

Making Deadlines Work

Voss cautions that counterparts may exploit anxiety by using deadlines to pressure you into making a deal, but he says deadlines are often flexible and don’t have the dire consequences we fear. By not negotiating against yourself, you can use the deadline to your advantage and force your counterpart to accommodate your timeline.

Understand Cognitive Biases

Voss advises utilizing cognitive biases that shape our decision-making process. He focuses on the framing effect, which highlights how people react differently to identical choices based on presentation. For instance, marketing milk as “99% fat-free” rather than “1% fat” would likely appeal more to health-conscious consumers.

Ensure Implementation

Getting your counterpart to agree to your terms is just the beginning. The challenge now is how to ensure they follow through. To do this, you must secure their commitment and ensure implementation.

Use Open-Ended Questions to Give Your Counterpart Skin in the Game

Voss suggests using open-ended questions to keep your counterpart engaged and off-balance while also making them consider your position. This is important for ensuring implementation. Questions like “How can we make sure we follow through on what we’ve agreed on?” turn your counterpart into a partner in solving the problem.

Watch the Pronouns

Voss advises paying attention to your counterpart’s language and speech patterns to determine if they are truly involved in the decision-making process. A key indicator is their use of pronouns. The person in charge will typically use third-party pronouns like “we” instead of “I” or “me,” such as saying “We need to review internally before committing” instead of “I need to review internally.”

Spotting a Liar

When dealing with a deceitful counterpart, Voss warns that they may use complex sentences to distract you from their dishonesty. They also tend to use third-person pronouns instead of “I” or “me” to distance themselves from the lie psychologically.

How to Bargain

Voss asserts that negotiation involves more than offers and counteroffers and is influenced by both parties’ underlying goals and concerns. A successful negotiator must create an accurate psychological profile of their counterpart to better understand what they truly want.

The Three Types of Negotiator

Voss categorizes negotiators into three types: 

Givers, who are people-pleasers and poor time managers; Calculators, who are methodical and diligent, and less likely to be pressured by time constraints; and Aggressives, who are highly achievement-oriented, hate wasted time, and care deeply about meeting or beating deadlines.

Know Your Moves (and Your Counterpart’s)

Voss advises being well-prepared before a negotiation, regardless of the type of negotiator you’re dealing with. This means having a plan for open-ended questions, reflection, and labeling. When dealing with an experienced negotiator, there are also precise dodge-and-counterpunch techniques you might employ. You can utilize avoidance strategies like asking non-financial queries or switching to non-price terminology to block your rival’s “punches”.

Unknown Unknowns

Voss emphasizes the importance of having information in negotiations. According to him, negotiations are fundamentally about gathering information. However, some information is harder to get than others. Voss refers to the hidden pieces of information that can significantly change the outcome of a negotiation as “Black Swans.”

Unknown Unknowns: Black Swans

Voss emphasizes the significance of unknown unknowns, or the Black Swans, in negotiations. These are the pieces of information that are unknown to us, but once discovered, can significantly impact the negotiation. For example, learning that the seller of a house is under financial pressure can give you leverage to negotiate a heavily discounted offer. To find your counterpart’s Black Swan, Voss recommends getting face-time to pick up verbal and body language cues, as too much is lost through impersonal media like email.

Speaking Your Counterpart’s Language

Voss believes that Black Swans not only reveal critical information but also help us understand our counterpart’s worldview. By comprehending their perspective, we can communicate more effectively and avoid misinterpreting their actions as irrational.