Notes from Never Split the Difference

3 minute read


Recently I read the book “Never Split the Difference”, a book on “hostage negotiation” by former CBI terrorist negotiator Chris Voss, but lessons that can be applied to just about any converation in life to:

  • connect,
  • understand each other,
  • build a better relation,
  • empathize,
  • resolve difference, and,
  • to reach a goal and get what you want.

After reading the book, I applied a few tricks off-hand and surpringly got a positive feeback. I’m logging some of the core lessons so that I can not only visit these from time to time, but also serve as a quick “refresher” whenever I’m about to have an important conversation.

The lessons here are listed in the order they might be used as the conversaion progresses:

1. Active Listening

Everyone wants their story to be heard. Focus and listen to it carefully to apply the following:

a. Tactical Empathy

Understanding the feelign and midset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your infelunce in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing your attentiont to both the emotion obstacle and potention pathways to getting an agreement done.

b. Labeling

Communicate back what they’re trying to say with phrases like:

  • “It seems like…”
  • “It looks like…”

This concretizes

  1. The core disagreement
  2. The counterpart’s hesitation in agreeing with you

Remember to diffuse the negatives, and reinforce the positives.

c. Pause

Dramatic pause after labeling to give them a moment to let it sink in.

c. Body Language

Throughtout the conversation, use the following:

  • calm and deep boice
  • conscious smile and confidence
  • mirror their words

2. Get them to say “No”

To engage them more and open up their reasoning, get them to say No to an extreme & fake summary of their end-goal.

3. Get them to say “That’s right”

Your paraphrasing+labeling (=summary) should level down the field, bring up and clarify any assumptions both parties were holding.

4. Perspectives: bend their reality

  • Deadlines are not real
  • Drop the “fair” word: “Do you think this is fair?”. This will get them to say “No” and open up their reasoning
  • Define an extreme anchor by low-balling something, like a price or a proposition. Diffuse the situation (“this may be too much to ask…“)
  • Add extra gifts/favors, discuss and materialize common interests
  • If there’s a demand, that number should be something very specific
  • Mention your name: humanize the situation

5. Calibrated Questions (very important)

“He who has learned to disagree without bring disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.”

Questions like “How am I supposed to do that?” are open-ended with the aim to open up their reasoning, while giving them the illusion of control.

Asking these how questions will make them concretize their reasoning, explicitly state their assumptions and bring out the gaps, if any.

A few more examples:

  • “What are we trying to accomplish?”
  • “How is that worthwile?”
  • “What’s the core issue here?”
  • “How does that affect things?”

Prepare in advance.