Review of Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference

This book is centered around applying negotiating techniques to everyday discusses in person life and business. The author, Chris Voss, uses examples from his work as an FBI negotiator as well as his work as a professor to support the techniques that he lays out in this book.

Key Takeaways

Connecting, mirroring and labeling

These are basic techniques which can be used at any point in a negotiation. Connecting with the person you are negotiating with helps to establish a level of comfort. People naturally want to be understood and do not want to feel alone. A good connection with good listening and empathy can create trust and work to your advantage in the negotiation.

Mirroring is the strategy of repeating back the question or discussion to a person to help emphasize that you are listening. It makes them feel comfortable and relatable to you. It also helps to get them to continue providing you details from their side without requiring you to share details from your side.

Labeling is the technique in which you draw a conclusion about someone’s behavior to empathize with that individual. These phrases typically start with “It seems like you’re…” “It looks like you’re…” or “it sounds like you’re…”

The illusion of control

This concept is focused around making the other person feel that the outcome is their idea. If you have ever tried to do this, you may understand just how hard this is to accomplish. Some of the primary techniques that Voss covers are open-ended (calibrated) questions and avoiding “why” questions. An open-ended question is a question that cannot simply be answered with a “yes” or “no” with a purpose of getting more information from the person. In the work environment, you may use an open-ended question if you are trying to get somebody to arrive at a conclusion for themselves. A common example is, “How can we make this <insert task> better?” This question usually provokes a person to think deeper into the task at hand and draw new conclusion.

The second technique Voss covers is avoiding “why” questions. This is because questions that lead with “why” can often place the recipient in a defensive state and damage the communication relationship.

The black swan

In February 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of State for Defense, stated at a Defense Department briefing: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”

A black swan is effectively an unknown unknown. This is the nugget that the other person in the negotiation is holding on to and it is your job as the negotiator to extract that nugget through careful and tactical communication. Often times, this black swan can be used as leverage to improve your position in the negotiation. This isn’t required for all negotiations to be successful. One example of a black swan in the working environment would be if you are negotiating a deadline with a manager. During that negotiation, the conversation leads you to find out that your deadline is set based on when your manager’s critical metrics are due. Now, you may be able to negotiate additional resources to meet the deadline because you now know that your manager’s success depends on your success.


I believe there is a lot of value in understanding these techniques and the nuances of negotiation. A lot of the lessons in this book parallel those from books on how to be an effective communicator. Ultimately, I think each person is different and to be a successful communicator, you must be able to adapt and tailor your approach to these differences. Voss presents new and old techniques which are great additions to anybody’s communication toolbox.


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