Never Split The Difference cheat sheet summary
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Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss Summary and Analysis

Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Never Split The Difference cheat sheet summary

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Chris Voss’ Perspective

Chris Voss is an American businessman, author, and academic. He started his career as a policeman in the rough streets of Kansas City. After this, he joined the FBI, where he became their leading kidnapping negotiator. This role brought him face-to-face with bank robbers, gang leaders, and terrorists. He is now the CEO of The Black Swan Group Ltd, which offers negotiation training for businesses and individuals. Chris is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a lecturer at the Marshall School of Business at the University of South Carolina.


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Never Split the Difference calls on Chris Voss’ FBI career as their top hostage negotiator. Specifically, it equips readers with the negotiating skills needed to secure business deals. Chris suggests that logic and reason are not generally effective in producing productive negotiations. Instead, tactical empathy is the key to success, especially in complicated negotiations. This book aims to help people control negotiations with humans, rather than assume the other party is a robot. 

StoryShot #1: The New Rules

Chris Voss describes negotiation as a process of trying to convince others of your approach to a topic. So, negotiation is a type of communication that requires a specific outcome. Negotiation is built on the assumption that humans want to be accepted and understood. 

Subsequently, being an active listener is an effective way to show acceptance and empathy toward the other party in the negotiation. One negotiation technique is to become an intelligent negotiator who focuses on logic and math. In reality, humans are not always convinced by rationality, and we generally do not accept comments based on logic alone. So Chris rejects this approach.

Negotiation has been a topic of study since the 1970s. Still, it was only recently that psychologists like Kahneman and Tversky identified that we all have a habit of adopting cognitive biases. These cognitive biases lead to irrationality. These cognitive biases are relatively common. So, if we can better understand human negotiation psychology, we can become more successful negotiators. 

StoryShot #2: Building an Efficient Negotiation Environment

Negotiation as Information Gathering

When negotiating, it is essential to establish a rapport quickly. A rapport relies on effective empathy so that you can gain trust. That said, it also relies on having as much information about your counterpart and the situation as possible.

Chris Voss provides an example from his own life of why obtaining as much information as possible is essential. Chris was involved in the negotiation process after a robbery in a Manhattan bank in 1993. Three innocent hostages were taken. While negotiating, one of the robbers told the FBI that four people were holding the hostages. In reality, it was just him holding them hostage. Upon rewatching the robbery, Chris noticed the other robbers were only after the ATM and bailed when he took the hostages. From obtaining this information, Chris could ascertain this robber was acting alone in this hostage situation. He was lying about the number of people as he wanted to buy time to escape. Chris successfully negotiated this dilemma, as he had sufficient information and developed a rapport with the criminal. 

Chris describes negotiations as an act of discovery. Rather than a battle of arguments, he sees negotiation as a way to uncover as much information as possible. You can start building a rapport by listening to the other party. Validate their concerns, build trust, and create a safety net that allows real conversations to flourish. Doing this produces an environment safe enough for the other individual to talk about what they want. A rapport and trust depend on a slow negotiation process. If you seem in a hurry, the other party will feel like they are not being heard. The other party will also believe you are only negotiating for your benefit. 

 The Three Voices for Negotiation

According to Chris Voss, there are three types of voices available to negotiators:

  1. The late-night FM DJ voice: Basically, you want to keep your voice calm and slow. You shouldn’t use this voice at all times, but you can use it selectively when you want to create an aura of authority and trust.
  2. The playful/positive voice: This should be your default voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. This voice will help encourage the other individual to start opening up.
  3. The direct/assertive voice: This is the voice you should use most sparingly. This type of voice frequently creates pushback, so you should only use it if there is no alternative.


Mirroring is an approach that involves repeating what the other person is saying in a curious tone. Specifically, it involves using the three most critical words to frame a leading question. This approach encourages participants to reveal information, making them feel like they are like you. You are buying time and building a relationship that will help you gather more information to inform your future decisions. Chris provides an example of the effectiveness of mirroring via a study with waiters. Psychologist Richard Wiseman found that waiters received on average 70 percent more tips when they mirrored. 

So Chris Voss suggests you adopt this five-step process with all your negotiations:

  1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice (unless circumstances insist you use one of the other voices).
  2. Start with phrases like ‘I am sorry,’ so that you display openness.
  3. Mirror the other participants to build a rapport.
  4. Use silence effectively.
  5. Repeat.

StoryShot #3: Instead of Feeling Their Pain, You Should Label It

Chris Voss also provides a two-step approach to build trust through tactical empathy and labeling. Tactical empathy requires you to listen to and understand the feelings of the other party. You have to simultaneously understand their emotions and listen to their points of view. Combining these two pieces of information throughout the negotiation will help increase your influence. You can better understand the other individual’s feelings by closely observing the other person’s face, gestures, and tone of voice. Research suggests that observing these emotional cues can help your brain align with theirs. This is called neural resonance. Your brain will mirror their emotions, helping you better understand how they are feeling. 

Subsequently, having gained a better understanding of the other individual’s emotions, you will want to validate their emotion by acknowledging it. This is called labeling. Once you have spotted an emotion, you should label it aloud by observing non-verbal cues and the words they are using. You should always start your label of emotions with one of the following phrases:

  1. ‘It seems like…’
  2. ‘It looks like…’
  3. ‘It sounds like…’

Chris emphasizes that labeling negative emotions can diffuse them, while labeling positives can reinforce them. Based on this, labeling can help de-escalate situations. 

StoryShot #4: Don’t Be Scared of Using “No” Tactically

Chris describes the word “no” as a powerful tool when negotiating. If used effectively, the word “no” can uncover unknown points of contention. This works both ways. You should avoid pushing for a yes. Pushing for a yes will not bring you closer to an agreement and potentially irritate the other party. Chris describes a ‘no’ as the start of the negotiation, rather than its end. For example, a party responding with “no” provides an excellent opportunity to probe them to clarify precisely what they don’t want. 

Chris introduced three kinds of “yes”:

  1. Counterfeit – This is when the party sees a yes response as the easiest escape route. The party had planned to say no but did not want to deal with the repercussions.
  2. Confirmation – This is generally straightforward. The other party provides a reflexive response to a straightforward question.
  3. Commitment – This is the most impactful type of yes. This type of yes will lead to a definite outcome, like signing a contract. 

You must learn which of these yeses is being used by the other party. Understanding this will help you guide the conversation forward and get to the center of the negotiation.


We rate Chris Voss’ book 4.4/5.

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Never Split The Difference Cheat Sheet PDF

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