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Never Split the Difference

Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss

This was not an excellent book, and if it wasn’t recommended by a co-worker, then I would not have read it. I have no doubt that the author is intelligent and successful, but I didn’t feel like this book offered a lot of new information to me. It was organized sort of like a text book, but tried to read like a story. I knew it was going to be bad when in the introduction the author said, “but beware: this is not another pop-psych book.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this book was. “Never Split the Difference” is just “another pop-psych book.” If you have to state this in the introduction of your book, then it’s probably because you are concerned that your novel is exactly the thing you don’t want it to be. The author attempted to write “not another pop-psych book,” but failed. If this was clearly “not another pop-psych book,” then the conclusion would be clear and the reader would not need to be told up-front. Dear Mr. Voss, I regret to inform you that despite your best efforts, you wrote “another pop-psyche” book.


One of the chapters that the author uses to push against the pop-psyche culture is “[4] Beware ‘Yes’ – Master ‘No’.” In this chapter, the author’s argument is that we get excessively consumed about seeking “yes” answers, and we too often settle for insincere yeses. By prompting a “no” response, you can ensure that your counterpart is being honest, and then you can get the real “yes” answer. The goal is to avoid a counterfeit “yes.” Although the author claims this chapter opposes the “pop-psyche” culture, because he is advocating to elicit a “no” response, the conclusion is still the same. You need the other person to say “yes.” Mr. Voss just frames the problem of seeking a bought-in “yes” in a different perspective and offers one method for securing the non-counterfeit “yes.”


Here is a good example of soliciting a “no” response: You send an email to somebody you have been trying to do business with, and they have been ignoring you. To follow-up, send an email that solicits a “no” by saying, “Have you given up on this project?”


Although this was not one of my favorite books, I think that the author made some good points that are worth re-iterating. First of all, emotions need to be considered during any type of negotiation. As much as we would like to assume that negotiation is a fully logical process, this assumption is wrong. Human emotions are involved in everything, especially negotiation. So, something that really helps you win a negotiation is understanding emotions, your own and other’s. A good example of emotions and how they affect our actions is Loss Aversion, which demonstrates that people are statistically more likely to act to avert a loss than to act to achieve an equivalent gain. Said another way, it is better to not lose $20 than to gain $20. In a job interview or salary negotiation for example, you can frame your responses to let the other side know what they are losing when they lose you, instead of what they are gaining when they employ you.


A big theme of this book is Tactical Empathy, which is listening to other side and trying to understand their unspoken interests and motivations. Tactical Empathy is also known as listening. Listening, true listening, is a skill, and not many people have it. By listening you can discover unspoken biases, motivations, side-factors, and objectives. Listening is not easy, but it is well understood that good listening is valuable. Using a response such as “I don’t understand” is a perfectly acceptable answer to make the other person feel like you care, and to help yourself better understand their situation. When you have mastered the art of Tactical Empathy, which other pop-psyche books call Emotional Intelligence, a good strategy is to label your counterpart’s emotions. During the conversation, ask calibrated questions to help yourself understand how the other person is feeling. Once you spot an emotion that you want to highlight, the next step is to label that emotion back. Labeling is saying things like, “It seems like…” “It sounds like…” or “It looks like…” After placing a label on the person’s emotions, then it is time to go silent. Let the other person think and respond to the label. The goal is to make the other person feel understood.


Here is a good example of Emotional Intelligence: On a plane you are trying to get a seat on a sold-out flight and you tell the attendant, “Well, it seems like you’ve been handling the rough day pretty well [label]. I was also affected by the weather delays and missed my connecting flight [tactical empathy]. It seems like this flight is likely booked solid [label], but with what you said, maybe someone affected by the weather might miss this connection. Is there any possibility a seat will open? [request]”


The goal of a negotiation is to discover what motivates the other person. It is a discovery game. It is not a battleground. A good technique for discovering the other person’s situation is mirroring. Mirroring is the act of repeating back the last 1-3 words of the person’s last statement. It should be stated in a way that is inquisitive and prompts the other person to elaborate on what he/she means. Be encouraging and relaxed with your vocals. This is a good method for gathering additional intelligence.


Another idea that I have heard often is to get the other party to find a solution. Do not simply plop your solution in their minds. Ask guided questions to help them come to the conclusion that you want. Use questions to the get the other party thinking logically and to arrive at your desired conclusion. This way, they own it. Mr. Voss calls this using Calibrated Questions. Some examples of calibrated questions:

  • “How am I supposed to do that?”

  • “What about this is important to you?”

  • “How can I help to make this better for us?”

  • “How would you like me to proceed?”

  • “How can we solve this problem?”

The 7-38-55 percent rule states that 7% of a message is based on words, 38% comes from tone of voice, and 55% comes from facial expressions and body language. Body language and voice tones are the most powerful assessment tools. Nonverbal and verbal ques are more critical than spoken words. If a person’s words do not line up with their voice and body language, then be wary. This implies that the speaker is lying or not convinced. When voice and body language do not align with words, then use labels to discover the incongruence. When you recognize incongruence, address it. You and the other person will be thankful. I really like this idea, because I see it often. Sometimes I address it, but often I do not. I doubt that what I’m observing is true. In the past when I have missed incongruences, I have learned later that what I observed at the time was true, and it would have saved headache if I had addressed it immediately. I hope that I get better at this skill of recognizing incongruences as I get more confident with my body language and vocal assessments.


Other negotiation tips:

  • Use the f-word, “fair,” to help gain concessions. “How is that fair?”

  • Use odd numbers, such as $311,263 instead of $300,000 because it makes it appear that the number is a result of some thoughtful calculations

  • Ask, “What does it take to be successful here?”

  • Play hard-ball by offering a number that is 20% more than your asking price. So if you want to get paid $120k/year, give your salary requirement as $145k - $172k.

  • Remember that no deal is better than a bad deal. Be willing to walk away

  • Use strategies such as summarizing and paraphrasing to make the other party feel understood. If they say, “that’s right,” then you have made them feel understood and are moving in the correct direction.

  • Use non-cash incentives. Offer an extra CD-player, because this makes it seem like you are really at your limit and cannot concede any further with the price

  • Anything but a firm “no” is a win. They are willing to negotiate. If the other side says, “Let me ask my boss,” then you have won. Just be patient.

  • Bargain hard. Grow a spine.

  • Prepare. This includes doing your background research and potentially preparing an Ackermann model. The Ackermann model is summarized as:

  • Set your target price

  • Set your first offer at 65% of your target

  • Calculate three decreasing increments of your target price (85%, 95%, and 100%). Get the other side to counter-offer before modifying your own offer.

  • Use a precise number ($311,263 instead of $300,000) for your final amount

  • On your final number, include a nonmonetary item to show that you are your limit

  • Anger shows passion and conviction. These emotions are helpful in a negotiation. Controlled anger is good. Controlled passion is good. I really like one, because it is one that I see win again and again.

  • Black swans are the unknown unknowns. Since these are unknown, they are incredibly hard to uncover. Face-to-face interactions are crucial to reveal black swans.

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