Three Negotiating Tips from “Never Split the Difference” by Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss

Three Negotiating Tips from “Never Split the Difference” by Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss

Posted by JB on Jan 25th 2019

Never Split the Difference Negotiation by Chriss Voss with Tahl Raz

Are you a negotiator? If you answered no, you are wrong. Everyone negotiates whether they realize it or not.

Sure, you may not make your living negotiating hostages from bad guys, like Chris Voss used to do. But you probably negotiate every day. Maybe with your small child at bedtime or dinner? Or with your spouse about trivial topics like what movie to watch or more serious issues like how to spend or invest money or where to live. And—no matter what your job or business—there is probably some negotiation built into your situation.

There are some people that love negotiating, but most people don’t—at least that is what they tell themselves. Perhaps they picture two stone-faced diplomats frowning at each other as each tries to show greater strength to the other? Or maybe they think about the last time they bought or leased a car?

But negotiation need not be unpleasant and you can get better at it. If you aren’t sure you want to read a book on negotiation because you think it may be dry, you should read the negotiation book by Chris Voss, former FBI top negotiator: “ Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it .” Not only will you learn to negotiate better, but you will hear exciting stories. And you may enjoy his approach, which is long on emotional intelligence and short on technical jargon.

You might also enjoy our article “Learning Negotiation Skills Will Help You Succeed” about the classic book “Getting to Yes.”

Each chapter of Never Split the Difference focuses on a technique or approach that you can apply to improve your negotiating skills. Some of them are counter to conventional wisdom for negotiation—like Chapter 4, which Voss titles “Beware ‘Yes’—Master ‘No.’

We highly recommend that you read the entire book. But to give you a taste, here are three negotiating tips from Never Split the Difference:

Establish Rapport through Mirroring

An effective negotiation is less about separating yourself from the other side in an intense stare-down and more about coming together. You want to build trust. And you can do that through mirroring.

As Chris Voss explains, mirroring “is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other. It can be done with speech patterns, body language, tempo, and tone of voice.” (p.35).

Read his book to learn more about how to mirror and why it helps you in negotiation and overall rapport building .

Create Empathy by Labeling Your Negative

According to  Chris Voss, “empathy is the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart and the vocalization of that recognition.” That doesn’t, of course, mean you have to agree with that perspective.

In a negotiation, you take empathy a step further with what Voss calls “tactical empathy.” You not only try to understand the feelings and mindset of your counterpart, but you also try to understand what is behind those feelings. That allows you to increase your influence because you understand “both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done.” (52). Voss calls this emotional intelligence on steroids.

Once you identify the other side’s emotion and what is behind it, you can neutralize the negative by simply labeling it—directly to them. If the other side has a negative feeling toward you, state it out loud—label it. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should say it. That will diffuse it and will help you get past it.

Strive for the Response “That’s Right” Rather than “You’re Right”

You will need to read the book to learn exactly how to get to the two magic words “that’s right,” but it should help you to understand that there are many miles between “you’re right” and “that’s right.”

When you tell someone something and they either don’t fully understand or they just want you to stop talking, they often say “you’re right.” They me even mean it—they agree with your logic. But they don’t own it.

But if you can get them to say “that’s right,” they agree with you and they own it. Sometimes you hear “that’s right” after the lightbulb goes off in their head. They finally get it.

Pay attention to the subtle differences between these similar-sounding responses and you will better understand if someone is with you.


The ideas in the  book “Never Split the Difference” will help you in your business and your life. The three negotiating tips we previewed in this article are examples of the types of advice that  Chris Voss lays out in his book from his experience with the FBI. They are techniques that he developed in practice; they aren’t deductions from a professor studying theory. They work in real life—from hostage negotiations to choosing where to eat dinner.

You should give them a try. At the very least, you will read a lot of interesting stories.