Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

The ability to get inside the head of the person in front of you, and alter his beliefs to fit yours is a subtle art. In Never Split The Difference, Chriss Voss, the author, who has more than two decades of experience in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, shares the principles and the tactics he used in hostage situations that can be helpful in any form of negotiation in our normal daily lives. This book will help you become a decision architect – an agile negotiator who adequately uses the verbal and nonverbal elements in a conversation to get to what you want.

The Core Idea:

Deriving from the fact that we’re all crazy and irrational, the author helps create a revolutionary negotiation script for the FBI back in the days. This manuscript is both useful to deal with bank robbers with hostages and money-driven CEOs who are trying to manipulate the board of directors. The author argues that the foundation of every successful bargain starts with intense listening and sincere empathy. According to Chriss Voss, only when you establish rapport and gain the trust of the other party, you can get the most out of any situation.


  • Negotiations start with active listening and improve by understanding the core desires of others.
  • Make others think they are in control by asking them open-ended questions that steer the conversation towards your goal.
  • Compromising is common because we want to avoid confrontation. That’s why you need to stick to what you want and rarely settle for less.

7 Key Lessons from Never Split the Difference:

Lesson #1: Life is Negotiation

Whether you’re trying to convince your kid to clean his room, your boss to raise your salary, or if you happen to be the person calling the shots in a hostage situation, negotiations are everywhere in our daily lives.

We’re constantly in the process of convincing someone else to adopt our worldview or offer. The sooner we realize this fact, the better we’ll become at playing this game of high stakes.

But how do you get what you want from others without sounding like a jerk and without inflicting damage to the other parties?

To answer this, I’ll borrow the following passage from the book, “Negotiating does not mean browbeating or grinding someone down. It simply means playing the emotional game that human society is set up for. In this world, you get what you ask for; you just have to ask correctly. So claim your prerogative to ask for what you think is right.”

The first thing we need to embrace in order to become great negotiators is that we’re all irrational. We’re emotionally driven, and we don’t clearly express what we actually want.

If you successfully identify the real needs of the person in front of you – usually not directly shared by him – and make him feel comfortable with your persona, you’ll get what you want.

But it won’t be easy. You need to consider everything – from the body language down to the nonverbal cues the other person is projecting. And to read others successfully, you need to start with deep focused listening.

“It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there. By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.” Chris Voss

Lesson #2: Become Acute Listener

People don’t think alike. Everyone has his own goals and ambitions. That’s why we often fail to realize and successfully identify the needs of the other party.

We’re so prone to what we want, that we don’t understand what’s inside the head of the person in front of us.

To get better at convincing others. To become an experienced communicator, you need to first listen.

It sounds easy. It sounds even stupid. But active listening is the most underused, yet most powerful tool you can use to demonstrate empathy and show sincere desire to understand, and help, the other party.

Chriss Voss explains:

“For those people who view negotiation as a battle of arguments, it’s the voices in their own head that are overwhelming them. When they’re not talking, they’re thinking about their arguments, and when they are talking, they’re making their arguments.” Chris Voss

That’s why, when dealing with hostage situations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a dedicated team of listeners who pay attention to what the kidnappers are saying and after that, they exchange notes. FBI knows that the person actually negotiating with the robber can miss something. And by plugging other people in the conversation, they reduce the chances of something like this happening.

People want to be understood and accepted. They want their opinion and character to matter. By actively listening, you can get to their core desires. You can get to people and understand what they are actually experiencing.

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