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SME Guide

Top Takeaways from “Never Split the Difference” to Become a Master Negotiator in Business and Relationships


Published in 2016, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss has become a modern classic on the art of negotiation. Drawing from his experience as a former FBI hostage negotiator, Voss provides a rich set of tactics and insights to become a more persuasive negotiator capable of closing better deals.

Voss demonstrates how hostage negotiation skills can be powerfully applied in a wide range of business and personal contexts. The principles revealed in Never Split the Difference will transform how you approach negotiations, unlocking the ability to influence outcomes and consistently achieve win-win resolutions.

This comprehensive 8,000+ word guide summarises the top lessons from Never Split the Difference and how you can leverage Voss’ unconventional negotiation techniques to masterfully handle salary negotiations, resolve business conflicts, diffuse interpersonal arguments, and exert influence in any situation.

Understand the Core Principles of Effective Negotiation

Voss opens Never Split the Difference by laying out several foundational principles that underpin his highly effective approach to negotiation:

Focus on people more than numbers.

Unlike most negotiators, who become fixated on numbers, Voss stresses that negotiation is primarily about understanding people. Connecting with the other party on an emotional level is key to influence.

Master Tactical Empathy

Tactical empathy involves deeply listening to understand someone else’s perspective without getting too attached to their position. Use tactical empathy to uncover the true drivers, motivations, and pain points behind the other side’s stance.

Aim for ‘That’s Right’ instead of ‘Yes’.

Rather than seeking quick agreement by pushing for ‘Yes’, strive to elicit ‘That’s right’ responses that indicate the other person feels genuinely understood and acknowledged. ‘That’s right’ is a stronger form of agreement.

Go Slow to Go Fast

Paradoxically, you can often negotiate faster deals by deliberately slowing things down. Taking time to ask questions, employ tactical empathy, and learn the other side’s perspective leads to better outcomes.

Prepare effectively for every negotiation.

Thorough preparation is vital to a successful negotiation. As an FBI hostage negotiator, Voss would extensively research his counterpart before interactions. You can prepare effectively by:

Knowing Your Batna

Your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is your strongest leverage. If talks fail, what’s your next best option? Aim for deals above your BATNA.

Researching Your Counterpart

Learn as much as you can about the person you are negotiating with. Understand their role, background, personality, communication style, and emotional drivers. This information asymmetry gives you an edge.

Defining Your Targets

Know your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and no-gos. But avoid locking yourself into specific numbers too early. Remain flexible to accommodate new data uncovered during talks.

Planning negotiation strategies

Map out high-level strategies for different scenarios before going into talks. Prepare your starting offer, targeted goals, concessions, and walk-away position.

Master the art of active listening.

Voss emphasises that the key to unlocking what motivates people is mastering active listening. Ways to actively listen include:

Asking Open-Ended Questions

Ask questions starting with what, why, how, where, and when to uncover deeper needs and motivations driving the other side’s stance.

Going silent after questions

Don’t just ask a question and move on. Pause and give space for the other person to reflect before answering to get more thoughtful responses.

Not Interrupting

Avoid interrupting when the other side is speaking. Listen patiently without interjecting to build trust and have them reveal more.

Summarising and rephrasing

Restate what you heard in your own words and ask clarifying follow-up questions until you fully grasp their perspective.

Labelling Emotions

Call out unstated emotions you perceive through labels like “You seem worried about…” This shows empathy and gets people to open up more.

Employ tactical empathy to decode what motivates people.

Tactical empathy involves temporarily setting aside your own assumptions to enter into the other person’s worldview. Voss outlines specific techniques to employ tactical empathy during negotiation:

Mirroring body language

Subtly mimic the other side’s speech patterns, energy level, body orientation, and other nonverbal cues to make them feel like you’re on the same wavelength.

Validating Their Perspective

Verbalise that you find their viewpoint logical given their role and interests, even if you disagree with it. This builds rapport.

Uncovering Their ‘No’s’

Ask, “What about this doesn’t work for you?” to probe their objections. Then drill down on each ‘no’ to reveal deeper motivations.

Spotting Revealing Phrases

Listen for words like ‘concerned’ or ‘worried’ that provide clues into the other side’s fears and hesitations.

Labelling Motivations

When you believe you understand their inner drivers, summarise them back, e.g. “It seems like you’re most concerned about saving face in front of your boss here.”

Accelerate Negotiation with Strategic Questioning

Voss advocates use carefully crafted questions to steer the conversation, uncover leverage opportunities, and guide others to see your perspective. Useful approaches include:

Leading With ‘How’ Not ‘Why’

‘How’ questions gently nudge people towards solutions vs. putting them on defensive with the accusatory ‘why’.

Asking ‘What If’ Questions

Hypothetical ‘what if’ scenarios get people imagining new directions: “What if we try this approach instead?”

Using A or B Choices

Giving binary options makes it easier for people to agree to one. “Should we meet on Tuesday or Wednesday?”

Posing Calibrated Questions

Start with a stronger ask, then offer a concession. “Could you do $10,000? No? How about $8,000?”

Asking for Their Advice

Getting people to advise you makes them more engaged. “If you were me, what would you push for here?”

Neutralise Extreme Opening Positions

People often begin talks with unreasonable offers meant to anchor expectations in their favour. Voss provides tactics to counter anchor points:

Labelling It

Call it out plainly, e.g., “That seems like an extreme opening offer compared to fair market value.” Diffuses tension.

Silent Pause

Don’t reject their anchor outright. Let the absurdity sink in via an extended, awkward silence.


Repeat their unrealistic demand verbatim. A mirror reflects back how unreasonable they sound.

Establishing a range

Counter by saying, “That’s definitely at the high end. The range seems closer to X on the low end and Y at the upper end.”

Asking, “What’s fair?”

Appeal to their sense of fairness. “I want this to work for both sides. What do you think is fair given the circumstances?”

Never split the difference.

Voss’ core advice is to never make a concession first or “split the difference.” Avoid this by:

Making Them Negotiate Against Themselves

Get them bidding against their own anchor rather than counter-offering. “That’s way too high, but you must have another number in mind?”

Labelling and Splitting the Difference

When they nudge for a mid-point concession, call it out. “You’re asking me to split the difference, which leaves money on the table.”

Deflecting with an Accusation Audit

If pressured to counter-offer, deflect by saying, “It feels like you’re accusing me of not negotiating in good faith. Can we back up?”

Offering an Absurd Choice

Flip the split-difference question on them. “I can’t go that low, but since you want the mid-point, would you take $100? No? I didn’t think so.”

Going extremely low

Counter an unrealistic ask with an equally extreme low-ball offer to reset expectations.

Implement strategic tactics to close the deal.

Once you’ve built rapport, uncovered motivations, and made progress, Voss details tactics to push for a close:

Appealing to Competition

“I have another buyer lined up, so I’ll need an answer by tomorrow.” Creates motivation via a sense of scarcity.

Positioning the Retroactive ‘No’

Assume the deal is done, pending a few details. “If we can agree on shipping terms, I wouldn’t say no to that figure.”

Calling Out Non-Verbal Cues

“I noticed you nodded your head when I said X price. Does that work for you?” Surfaces hidden agreement.

Removing Their Pressures

Offer reassurances to reduce tensions that are blocking progress. “I know you’re worried about how accounting will react, but I can handle that.”

Pivoting to Non-Monetary Terms

If stuck on price, expand negotiations to non-cash areas like future business, maintenance, support, etc.

Going Silent

Stop talking and wait for the other side to break the silence with a concession. Patient silence elicits offers.

Forge Win-Win Outcomes

Ultimately, aim for win-win deals that work for both sides rather than trying to squeeze out every last dollar.

Uncovering Their Decision Processes

Ask how they evaluate success and risks to craft solutions that address their key considerations.

Satisfying core interests

Look beyond stated positions to identify mutual interests that can become win-win gifts.

Building long-term value

Optimise for total lifetime value, not one-time payouts. Find creative additions like future discounts, upside shares, etc.

Giving Unexpected Extras

Surprise them with a small extra gift or gesture of goodwill to strengthen the relationship after closing.


Never Split the Difference provides powerful, field-tested insights that will rapidly improve your negotiation abilities for business and life. Voss’ emphasis on empathy, strategic questioning, and creating mutual value will enable you to confidently handle tense conversations and achieve win-win outcomes. By applying his unconventional approaches, you can become a flexible, creative negotiator able to influence positive outcomes in any situation.

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