The Best Book on Negotiation | Never Split the Difference

Let me share with you the best book on negotiation I've ever read - Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss. 

The Best Book on Negotiation - Never Split the Difference

I recently read the book Never Split the Difference, written by Chris Voss. I can't remember when exactly it caught my attention, but I had it on my reading list for quite a while. This post is going to be a bit of a book review as well as me sharing my favourite points. 


Let me start off by saying that Never Split the Difference was an excellent read. It was even better than I had expected. As the cover points out, the book is a carefully combined set of negotiation principles perfected from Chris Voss's career as a hostage negotiator and later as an award winning teacher in the world's most prestigous business schools. 


From policing the tough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, to becoming the FBI's leading international kidnapping negotiator, to teaching negotiation at top universities, Voss has tested the techniques in his book. The book is full of lively stories that illustrate his point and prove his expertise. The ideas make quite a lot of sense, and the logic is easy to follow. 


Here are some of my key takeaways from reading the book:


Never Split the Difference - My Top Takeaways:

1. Label the Emotions of Your Counterpart 


In the book, Voss uses the term 'counterpart' when describing the person you're negotiating with, the person you're trying to persuade. Labelling is basically a technique where you tell your counterpart what you've observed about their emotions, using phrases like 'it seem you are/you feel'. For example, 'it seems you are worried about telling me what happened'. 


This negotiation tactic kind of took me by surprise, because I guess I don't usually do this in my daily life. I always thought it would be better to keep your observations to yourself - still leverage them, but not tell the other person what you've observed. I always thought of it as being awkward. But following Voss's rationale, it makes a lot of sense. Here's why:


Labelling is used to neutralise the negative while reinforcing the positive. For example, labelling negative emotions that you identify in your counterpart actually diffuses them. As Voss put it 'deployed well, labelling is how we as negotiators identify and then slowly alter the inner voices of our counterpart's consciousness to something more collaborative and trusting'.  


Fear usually plays a major role in the mind of your counterpart. So you just pretending that everything is okay generally doesn't go down so well. Address their fears and negative feelings first, then you can move to constructing something positive. 


We all want to talk about happy stuff. But the sooner you get address and fix the fear, the sooner you can generate feelings of safety that are required for successful negotiation. 


2. The Accusation Audit 


Another principle I really enjoyed in Never Split the Difference was the idea of an accusation audit. Now that I think of it, it expands on the idea of labelling the negatives. 


What is an accusation audit? It's listing every terrible thing your counterpart could say about you. 


That's right. Beat them to it. 


The reason an accusation audit works so well, is that it helps prepare you to head off negative dynamics before they take root. The accusations will often sound exaggerated when said aloud, so speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true. 


This is an especially good tactic when someone is mad at you. It always softens us when someone we're mad with basically has a go at themselves before we even can! It almost puts us in a state where we start to defend them, and think 'oh it's not that bad'. As the book also points out, believe it or not, giving a sincere apology is always a good negotiation tactic. There's a lot that can be achieved by being humble. 


3. Master No - Not Yes 


Another valuable concept from the book is the principle of mastering 'no'. Too many times we are taught that we want the other person to say yes early on in conversation, to get to a final yes at the end. But it doesn't quite work like that. As Voss teaches, 'No' is actually the start of negotiation. 


You see, the problem is that not all yesses actually mean yes. As Chris outlines in the book, there are three kinds of yes: counterfeit, confirmation and commitment. 


  • Counterfeit yes is when your counterpart plans on saying no, but either feels yes is an easier escape route or insincerely keeps the conversation going to obtain more information or some other kind of edge.
  • Confirmation yes is an innocent, reflexive response to a black or white question. It offers no promise of action, it's just a simple confirmation. 
  • Commitment yes is the real deal. It's true agreement that leads to action. Exactly what you want. 

The catch is that you actually first want to get a no, to get to that commitment yes.

Here's why:

There is a deep and universal need for autonomy. People need to feel in control.


Think of those cheesy salesmen who try to sell to you by asking you obvious 'yes questions' in the hopes that you'll eventually say yes in the final hook. Many selling techniques are designed to get to yes at all costs, as if no were death. But at the end of the day, yes is often a meaningless answer that hides deeper objections. 


When you preserve a person's autonomy by giving them permission to say no to your ideas, you calm them down and then they can really look at your proposal. 'No' slows things down so that people can freely embrace their decisions and the agreements they enter into. That's why great negotiators seek 'no', because they know that's often when the real negotiation begins.


Based on this knowledge, you can use no-oriented questions in conversations. For example, if a potential business partner is ignoring your emails, here's what you can do: Contact them with a clear and conscise no-oriented question that suggests that you are ready to walk away. E.g., use the subject line or message: Have you given up on this project?


It works very well. 


4. Pay Attention to their Usage of Pronouns 


This last highlight is slightly random, but I thought it was interesting. This one was brought out in the book particularly in relation to hostage situations, but it is quite insightful. 


It's important of course, to observe the behaviours of your counterpart, as they may be giving away clues. For example, the use of pronouns by a counterpart can help give you a feel for their actual importance in the decision and implementation chains on the other side of the table. 


The more a counterpart uses 'I', 'me' and 'my', the less important they are. 


Conversely, the harder it is to get a first person pronoun out of a negotiator's mouth, the more important they are. This is because smart negotiators don't want to be cornered at the table into making a decision. They will defer to the people away from the spotlight to keep from getting pinned down. 


So listen carefully, and understand what's going on - there's always more than meets the eye. 


Highly Recommended Read 


So, those are some points I enjoyed from reading Never Split The Difference. These points are just teasers though - the book has so much more to offer. But you'll have to read it to find out the other gems ;). I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in human psychology and interactions. It is full of useful information and Voss does a good job of applying the negotiation tips to everyday situations, like getting a promotion or getting a good deal on a car.


Voss's book is one of the best books on negotiation and it's no wonder, because he's extremely experienced in his field. So get your copy of the book and make notes, you'll be surprised at the amount of clever techniques you can utilise in your daily interactions!


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