Mastering Negotiation Techniques with Chris Voss


Benjamin Gruber


Shaking hands after negotiations over the closed and signed deal
Shaking hands after negotiations over the closed and signed deal

"Never Split the Difference" is a comprehensive guide to negotiation, written by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. The book offers a unique perspective on negotiations, drawing from Voss's extensive experience in high-stakes situations. It is structured into chapters, each focusing on a specific aspect of negotiation.

Chapter Summaries

  1. The New Rules: Voss introduces the concept of mastering negotiation skills and outlines the importance of emotional intelligence and intuition over traditional logic-based approaches.

  2. Be a Mirror: This chapter focuses on the power of mirroring in negotiation or repeating the last few words of your counterpart, to build rapport and encourage them to reveal more information.

  3. Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It: Voss discusses the importance of recognizing and verbalizing the emotions of the other party, a technique he calls "tactical empathy."

  4. Beware 'Yes'—Master 'No': Contrary to popular belief, Voss argues that 'no' can be more powerful than 'yes' in negotiations, as it gives the speaker a sense of control.

  5. Trigger the Two Words That Immediately Transform Any Negotiation: The two words are "That's right." This chapter explains how getting the counterpart to agree profoundly can create a breakthrough in negotiations.

  6. Bend Their Reality: Voss discusses anchoring emotions, not just prices, to influence the counterpart's perception of what's fair.

  7. Create the Illusion of Control: This chapter is about asking calibrated questions to give the counterpart an illusion of control while you steer the negotiation.

  8. Guarantee Execution: Here, Voss talks about how to ensure that agreements are actually implemented.

  9. Bargain Hard: This chapter provides strategies for identifying and overcoming the counterpart's tactics and ensuring you get the best possible deal.

  10. Find the Black Swan: Voss concludes with the importance of uncovering hidden, unexpected elements (black swans) that can dramatically affect the outcome of a negotiation.

Chris Voss's Negotiation Techniques And Tips

Mirroring In Negotiation

This chapter is not just about the surface-level understanding of mirroring, but it delves into its psychological underpinnings and practical applications in high-stakes negotiation scenarios.

  1. Understanding Mirroring in Negotiation: Mirroring, in the context of negotiation, is more than just imitating body language or speech patterns. It's about repeating the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone just said. This simple act triggers a mirroring instinct in the brain, fostering a sense of connection and understanding.

  2. Psychological Impact: The technique is based on a fundamental biological principle: we are drawn to what's similar and fear what's different. By mirroring, you signal to the other person's subconscious, "Trust me, we're alike." This can be incredibly powerful in negotiations as it builds rapport and trust.

  3. Practical Application: In a real-world scenario, mirroring in negotiation can be used to encourage the other party to elaborate on their thoughts, thereby revealing more information. This technique can be particularly effective in extracting information and understanding the counterpart's desires and needs.

  4. Creating Connection: Chris Voss's mirroring is a way to make the other party feel safe and in control. It's about letting them draw their own boundaries and define their desires, which can be crucial in understanding their position in a negotiation.

  5. Beyond Verbal Communication: While mirroring is often associated with body language, in negotiation, it focuses solely on words. This focus on verbal mirroring, devoid of mimicking body language or tone, makes it a subtle yet powerful tool.

  6. Real-World Examples: The chapter provides real-life examples, such as a study involving waiters who used mirroring to increase their tips significantly. These examples demonstrate the effectiveness of mirroring in various situations, not just in high-stakes negotiations.

  7. Active Listening Arsenal: Mirroring is part of a broader set of active listening techniques, which also includes effective pauses, minimal encouragers, labeling, paraphrasing, and summarizing. These techniques collectively help in understanding and connecting with the counterpart in a negotiation.

  8. Encouraging Empathy and Bonding: By mirroring in negotiations, you encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you. This can be crucial in negotiations where understanding the emotional undercurrents can lead to more effective outcomes.

Labeling In Negotiation

The chapter "Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It" delves into the critical role of emotions in negotiation. Traditionally, emotions were often seen as an obstacle in negotiations, something to be suppressed or ignored. However, Chris Voss, argues that emotions are not just a side issue; they are central to the negotiation process. The key is not to become entangled in these emotions (i.e., feeling the pain) but to recognize and use labeling in negotiation.

Chris Voss Labeling Examples

Labeling in negotiation is a technique where you identify and articulate the emotional state of your counterpart. This approach is based on the understanding that emotions drive decision-making and behavior in negotiations. By labeling emotions, you acknowledge and validate these feelings without getting swept up in them. This technique helps in diffusing tension and creating a more conducive environment for negotiation.

Practical Application

  1. Identifying Emotions: The first step in labeling in negotiation is to detect the emotional state of the other party. This can be done by paying attention to their words, tone, and body language. Voss refers to this as the "words, music, and dance" of communication.

  2. Articulating Emotions: Once you've identified the emotion, articulate it back to the person. For instance, if someone seems frustrated, you might say, "It seems like you're feeling frustrated about this situation." This shows empathy and understanding.

  3. Neutralizing Negative Emotions: Labeling in negotiation can help in diffusing negative emotions. For example, if someone is angry, acknowledging that anger can help in de-escalating the situation. It moves the brain's activity from the amygdala (which generates fear and anger) to areas that govern rational thinking.

  4. Reinforcing Positive Emotions: Similarly, labeling positive emotions can reinforce them and encourage a more collaborative atmosphere.

  5. Avoiding Assumptions: It’s crucial not to assume but to use tentative language like "It seems like…" or "It sounds like…" This approach leaves room for correction if your interpretation is off the mark.

  6. Embracing Silence: After labeling an emotion, it’s important to pause and allow the other person to respond or elaborate.

Beware 'Yes'—Master 'No'

The chapter "Beware 'Yes'—Master 'No'" explores a counterintuitive approach to negotiation, emphasizing the power of 'No' over the traditional pursuit of 'Yes'. This chapter challenges the conventional wisdom that agreement (signified by 'Yes') is the ultimate goal in negotiations. Instead, Voss argues that 'No' offers several advantages, creating a sense of safety, security, and control for the person saying it.

Key Concepts:

  1. Safety in 'No': Saying 'No' gives people a feeling of safety and autonomy. It allows them to pause and consider their options without feeling pressured. This sense of control is crucial in negotiations, as it helps people feel secure in their decisions.

  2. 'No' as a Starting Point: Contrary to popular belief, 'No' doesn't signify the end of a negotiation but rather the beginning. It opens up the opportunity to understand the other party's true concerns and boundaries. This understanding is essential for crafting a mutually beneficial agreement.

  3. 'No' to Extract Information: By encouraging a counterpart to say 'No', a negotiator can gather valuable information about their preferences and limitations. This information is key to formulating an offer that is more likely to be accepted.

  4. 'No' as a Tool for Reflection: When someone says 'No', it often leads to a moment of reflection and reconsideration. This pause can be used by the negotiator to adjust their strategy or offer in a way that is more aligned with the other party's interests.

  5. 'No' to Avoid Premature 'Yes': A premature 'Yes' can be dangerous in negotiations as it might lead to agreements that are not fully thought through or are unfeasible. 'No' helps in avoiding such hasty agreements.

Practical Application:

  • Encourage 'No': Instead of avoiding 'No', negotiators should encourage it. This can be done by asking questions that allow the other party to express their disagreement or concerns comfortably.

  • Listen After 'No': The moments following a 'No' are critical. Paying attention to the reasons behind the 'No' can provide insights into the other party's perspective.

  • Reframe the Negotiation: After hearing 'No', use it as an opportunity to reframe the negotiation. Adjust your approach based on the information and concerns highlighted by the 'No'.

  • Build Trust: Using 'No' as a tool rather than a barrier helps in building trust. It shows respect for the other party's autonomy and decision-making process.

Trigger the Two Words That Immediately Transform Any Negotiation

This chapter focuses on the power of two simple words in the context of negotiation: "That's right." These words are significant because they indicate that the other party feels understood and that their perspective is acknowledged. This chapter delves into the psychological aspects of negotiation, emphasizing the importance of empathy, understanding, and strategic communication.

Here's an expanded look at the key concepts from this chapter:

  1. The Power of "That's Right": In negotiations, when someone says "that's right" in response to a summary or paraphrase of their position, it signifies a breakthrough. This response indicates that they feel heard and understood. It's a moment of rapport and connection, which is crucial in any negotiation.

  2. Tactical Empathy: This involves understanding the feelings and mindset of the other party and reflecting their emotions back to them. It's not just about understanding their position but also about acknowledging their situation and emotions. This approach helps in building trust and rapport.

  3. Active Listening and Labeling: Active listening is more than just hearing the words; it's about understanding the complete message being communicated. Labeling involves putting a name to the other person's feelings or emotional state. This technique helps in validating their emotions and making them feel understood.

  4. The Difference Between "Yes" and "That's Right": While a "yes" in negotiation can often be non-committal or even a disguised "no," a "that's right" usually indicates genuine agreement and understanding. It's a sign that the other party truly resonates with what you've said.

  5. Encouraging the Counterpart to Speak: The chapter emphasizes the importance of getting the other party to talk and express their viewpoint. The more they speak, the more information you gather, and the better you can understand their position and needs.

  6. Strategic Use of Summaries and Paraphrasing: By summarizing and paraphrasing the other party's points of view, you not only show that you are listening and understanding but also encourage them to agree with your understanding of their stance, leading to the powerful "that's right" moment.

  7. Building a Collaborative Environment: The ultimate goal of these techniques is to move the negotiation from adversarial to collaborative. When both parties feel understood and respected, they are more likely to work together towards a mutually beneficial solution.

  8. Application in Various Scenarios: These techniques are not limited to business negotiations but can be applied in a wide range of situations, including personal conflicts, hostage negotiations (as Voss's background as an FBI negotiator illustrates), and everyday interactions.

Bargain Hard

The chapter focuses on the art of negotiation, particularly on the strategies and techniques for effective bargaining. Here are some key insights and strategies from this chapter:

  1. Setting an Extreme Anchor: The chapter discusses the use of an extreme anchor to make your actual offer seem more reasonable. This involves initially presenting a number that is far from what you actually expect to pay or receive. This tactic is based on the principle that the perceived value of anything depends on the perspective from which it is viewed.

  2. Loss Aversion: Voss highlights the psychological principle that people are more motivated to avoid a loss than to achieve a gain. In negotiations, it's important to make your counterpart see that there is something to lose by not acting or agreeing to your terms.

  3. Calibrated Questions: The use of calibrated "How" questions is emphasized. These questions keep the counterpart engaged and off-balance, giving them the illusion of control while they contemplate your problems when making their demands.

  4. Nonverbal Communication: Understanding and utilizing nonverbal cues is crucial. Even changing a single word in your proposals can unconsciously influence the decisions of your counterpart.

  5. Creating a Perception of Fairness: The chapter stresses the importance of framing negotiations in a way that makes not accepting your offer feel like a loss to the other party. This involves navigating deadlines to create urgency and employing the idea of fairness to nudge your counterpart.

  6. The Importance of “How”: The chapter underscores that “Yes” is nothing without “How.” Asking “How” questions, knowing “How,” and defining “How” are all part of the effective negotiator’s arsenal.

  7. Personal Anecdote: Voss shares a personal story about negotiating for a car, where he demonstrates the importance of beginning a haggle gently and strategically. He emphasizes the importance of setting the right tone and being firm but reasonable in your approach.

    Ackerman's Negotiation Model

    This model is a systematic method of bargaining that involves several steps:

    • Start by setting your target price (your goal).

    • Your first offer should be 65% of your target price.

    • Increase over three increments (85%, 95%, and 100%) to your target.

    • Use precise, non-round numbers as they appear more thought-out and less arbitrary.

    • With each increment, throw in a non-monetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.

    • Application: Begin by determining your goal price. Make your first offer at 65% of that goal. Plan to increase your offer in three increments (to 85%, 95%, and 100% of your target price). Throughout the process, use empathy and strategic "no's" to guide the negotiation.

    • Example: If you aim to buy something for $100, start by offering $65. If rejected, increase to $85, then $95, and finally $100, each time using negotiation techniques to persuade the seller.

Find the Black Swan

The chapter "Find the Black Swan" emphasizes the importance of uncovering hidden, unexpected elements in negotiations, referred to as "Black Swans." These are pieces of information or insights that are outside our regular expectations and can dramatically change the outcome of a negotiation. The concept is derived from the historical belief that all swans were white, which was proven false when black swans were discovered in Australia.

Key points from this chapter include:

  1. Change of Mindset: Recognizing Black Swans requires a shift in mindset. It involves moving beyond conventional questioning and research techniques, which are typically designed to confirm known facts and reduce uncertainty. Instead, negotiators should embrace more intuitive and nuanced ways of listening and understanding, opening up to possibilities beyond their established perceptions.

  2. Types of Information in Negotiations: Voss categorizes information in negotiations into three types: known knowns (things we are aware of), known unknowns (things we know we don't know), and unknown unknowns (things we don't know we don't know). Black Swans fall into the last category and are often the most crucial in negotiations.

  3. The Role of Intuition and Observation: Finding Black Swans is not just about asking the right questions but also about being highly observant and intuitive. It involves reading nonverbal cues, noting small pauses that suggest discomfort or lies, and being open to the reality in front of you, rather than just looking to confirm pre-existing beliefs.

  4. Engaging in Face-to-Face Interactions: Voss argues that uncovering Black Swans is incredibly hard without direct, face-to-face interactions. Email and other forms of remote communication can limit the ability to read tone-of-voice effects and nonverbal parts of responses, which are crucial in identifying Black Swans.

  5. The Importance of Flexibility and Adaptability: Every negotiation is unique, and adhering rigidly to preconceived strategies can blind a negotiator to Black Swans. Being flexible and adaptable allows for a more effective response to unexpected information or changes in the negotiation landscape.

  6. Leveraging Black Swans: Once identified, Black Swans can act as leverage multipliers in negotiations. They can provide critical insights into the other party's desires, constraints, or misinformation, allowing for more effective negotiation strategies.

Bend their reality

This chapter delves into advanced negotiation techniques that focus on influencing your counterpart's perception and decision-making process. Here's an expanded overview of the key concepts and strategies from this chapter:

  1. Framing the Negotiation: The chapter begins by discussing how to frame a negotiation in a way that unconsciously sets limits for the discussion. This involves creating a perception of reality that favors your position without the counterpart realizing it.

  2. Navigating Deadlines: Voss explains the use of deadlines to create a sense of urgency. By manipulating the perception of time, you can make the other party feel pressured to make decisions, often in your favor.

  3. Employing Fairness: The concept of fairness is a powerful tool in negotiations. Voss suggests using the idea of fairness to nudge your counterpart towards your desired outcome. This involves framing your proposals as fair and reasonable, making it difficult for the other party to refuse without seeming unfair.

  4. Anchoring Emotions: The strategy of anchoring emotions is about setting a starting point that influences the counterpart’s emotional state. For instance, by initially presenting a scenario that seems unfavorable to them, any subsequent offer you make appears more attractive, bending their reality to see your offer as a better option.

  5. The Power of Perception: Voss illustrates how the same object or situation can have vastly different values based on how it's perceived. He uses the example of a coffee mug, showing how its perceived value changes depending on whether you're buying or selling it. This demonstrates the malleability of perceived value in negotiations.

  6. Calibrated Questions: The chapter ties into the use of calibrated questions (those starting with "How" or "What") to guide the negotiation. These questions avoid simple yes/no answers and instead make the counterpart engage more deeply, thinking through their responses, which can lead to more favorable outcomes for you.

  7. Creating the Illusion of Control: A key theme throughout the chapter is the idea of giving the counterpart the illusion of control while you guide the negotiation. This is achieved through strategic questioning, active listening, and framing the conversation in a way that leads them to your desired outcome.

  8. Changing Value Perception: Voss discusses how the perceived value of a proposition can change based on context. For example, being paid $20 for a small task might seem like a great deal until you learn that the task helped someone else make a million dollars. This shift in context can dramatically alter one's perception of the value of the deal.

Create the Illusion of Control

The chapter offers a deep dive into the art of negotiation, focusing on how to give your counterpart the feeling of control while you steer the negotiation. Here are some expanded insights from this chapter:

  1. Understanding and Extracting Information: The chapter emphasizes the importance of understanding your counterpart’s situation and extracting information about their desires and needs. This is achieved by making the other party feel safe and in control. A key strategy is to encourage the other party to disagree, to draw their own boundaries, and to define their desires in terms of what they do not want.

  2. Breaking the Habit of Seeking 'Yes': Voss advises against the common tendency to push people to say “yes.” Being pressured to agree can make people defensive. Instead, he suggests that it's more effective to trigger a “no,” as it peels away the facade of agreement and gets to the heart of the matter.

  3. The Power of 'No': Triggering a “no” from the counterpart can be more beneficial than a premature “yes.” It helps in understanding the real stakes and concerns of the other party. This approach is about authenticity and getting to the truth of the negotiation.

  4. Calibrated Questions: The chapter highlights the use of calibrated “How” questions. These questions keep your counterparts engaged but off balance, giving them the illusion of control. Answering these questions makes them contemplate your problems when making their demands, subtly guiding the negotiation.

  5. Active Listening and Empathy: Active listening and showing empathy are crucial. The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, etc.) and make them feel safe enough to talk openly. This approach helps in discovering their true motivations and needs.

  6. Creating Trust and Safety: The chapter discusses the importance of creating a sense of trust and safety for a real conversation to begin. This involves validating the emotions of the other party and making the negotiation about them, not just your interests.

  7. The Illusion of Control: The overarching theme of the chapter is about creating the illusion of control for the other party while you actually guide the negotiation. This is done through strategic questioning, active listening, and empathy, which allows you to steer the conversation subtly towards your desired outcome.

In summary, "Create the Illusion of Control" provides a nuanced understanding of how to conduct negotiations by making the other party feel in control while you subtly guide the process. It combines psychological insights with practical techniques, emphasizing the importance of understanding the other party's needs, using calibrated questions, and building trust and empathy.

10 Best Quotes from "Never Split the Difference"

  1. "Negotiation is not an act of battle; it's a process of discovery."

  2. "The goal is to identify what your counterpart actually needs and deliver on it."

  3. "Empathy is not about being nice; it's about understanding your counterpart's feelings and perspective."

  4. "No deal is better than a bad deal."

  5. "Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding."

  6. "Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings."

  7. "He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation."

  8. "In the world of negotiation, 'No' is the start of the conversation, not the end of it."

  9. "The sweetest two words in any negotiation are 'That's right.'"

  10. "Find the Black Swan of any negotiation and you change everything."

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