Blog 2019 08 21 Never split the difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Christopher Voss

Never split the difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Christopher Voss

Never split the difference is a great book on negotiations by a former international hostage negotiator from FBI. Christopher Voss shows us through various stories how and why hostage negotiation strategies changed over time at FBI where he was both a lead and an instructor. While at many points I felt that he was sharing stories with a too vehement pride - maybe it’s more a cultural thing - ha also shared big failures.

We might think that hostage negotiation has nothing to do with your life, but he proves us wrong. The author shows how his tactics are or could/should be used in everyday situations.

I’d like to pick three concepts from his book and present them in this post.


If you ever read about body language and its importance, you should be familiar with the concept. By the way, one of the best books of body language was written by another FBI agent, Joe Navarro. Apparently, federal agents know something.

In body language, mirroring means that you try to take a similar posture to your partner. When it’s unconscious, it’s a sign of sympathy. When it’s conscious, it’s a sign that you want the other to find you sympathetic. In other words, it’s influencing on the subconscious layer.

It’s not really different in verbal communication and in negotiation in particular. If you repeat the last few words of what your partner just said, it will help to create a connection. More than that, they will continue elaborating what they were just talking about. Mirroring is not just a good way of creating a relation but also to gain additional information with very simple questions.

Embrace the no

Many negotiation teachers would tell you that you have to find a yes answer the earliest you can and then get more and more of the same. Voss totally disagrees. He claims that many times it is too salesy. Probably you’ll answer yes to someone asking you whether you like to drink clean water. Yet, you’ll know what is coming and you’ll do whatever to get out of that trap.

Of course, there are yeses that mean commitment, but we all know when we only mean that yes we hear you (confirmation) and there are even counterfeit yes answers when we just don’t see a better and quicker way to get out of the situation.

Voss says that on the other hand a no usually means the beginning of real negotiation as it is barely a hard no. It might mean that you just want to talk it over with someone else, you need something else or you’re simply not ready yet to agree. Anyhow it will make everyone make some more efforts.

So don’t be afraid of a no, understand it and use it to move your case forward.

Find the black swans

I already wrote about a book which is about black swans by Nassim N. Taleb. There are multiple complementary definitions. Voss uses probably the simplest one: it’s the unknown unknown. Something that you don’t know that you don’t know.

He says that these are the most important pieces of information that you can get. They are so important that he even named his company after them.

While we are moving towards a more online world where we can have meetings via different software, these unknown unknowns you will mostly find out face to face. Hence for important negotiations, it’s still very important to travel. Not just out of politeness, but because through well-phrased questions and other tactics you can get invaluable information.

All in all, I really liked the book and I think I will be able to use some of the techniques at my work, at package negotiations, not mention more personal situations. Happy reading!

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.