Never Split the Difference — Book Review

by Adithya Solai

Table of Contents

  • My One-Line Summary
  • Key Takeaways
  • My Review
  • Final Verdict

My One-Line Summary

Although it is marketed as a book about negotiation, Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference is really about engineering conversation.

Key Takeaways

“Be a Mirror” & “Label their Pain”

Voss asserts that the key to negotiation is to understand the emotional desires of your counterparts. He offers conversational tools to achieve emotional trust with your counterpart, which I will summarize below. More importantly, I believe that these tools are equally useful in any type of conversation, and I have started to seriously employ these tools in every conversation that I have.

“Be a Mirror”:

Voss starts the book with an unbelievably simple and effective tool for getting people to open up: just repeat the key words in their previous statement with an inquisitive inflection and wait for them to talk again.

It’s hard to believe, but it works like a charm. Your counterpart will naturally elaborate on their point and provide even more information with which you can continue the conversation.

Sometimes I can’t resist following up the mirrored words with my own short reaction to what they said. I’m still experimenting with it, but it doesn’t seem to work as well as pure silence.

However, the fact that I am talking about “experimenting” during my conversations speaks volumes to the impact that this book has had on me. More than anything, this book challenges you to think strategically about what to say while still being attentive and active in the conversation.

“Label their Pain”:

After your counterpart spills all their sorrows to you from all the attentive listening and mirroring, Voss recommends you follow up with labeling statements that try to summarize how they are feeling.

Labeling statements almost always start with: “It seems like you…”

Just like mirroring, you are supposed to stay completely silent after delivering the labeling statement. Then, your counterpart will naturally confirm whether your label was accurate, and continue to elaborate more on their point.

After softening them up with Mirroring & Labeling, Voss recommends delivering a more long-winded statement in which you try to paraphrase and summarize a lot of what they said.

The final goal of labeling & summarizing is to get your counterpart to affirm that you understand them. Voss claims that the sweetest two words in negotiating is when your counterpart says, “That’s right!”

“Yes” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Yes

Voss cautions readers to be wary of an early “Yes”. He correctly observes that our modern society has a fake niceness used to avoid disagreement and confrontation. This has created varying degrees of “Yes”: the counterfeit Yes, the confirmation Yes, and the commitment Yes. These can be boiled down to a situation we are all familiar with: your conversation counterpart will agree with you in the moment, but will not actually take the actions that prove their commitment to the “Yes”.

He also suggests tools that will force your counterpart to say “No”. Voss believes that giving your counterpart the option to say “No” will make them feel safe and in control, which is something all humans fundamentally desire. From this, he concludes that this state of comfort is what will ultimately make your counterpart more open to your ideas.

Countless More Jedi Mind Tricks

The other sections of Never Split the Difference are full of manipulative mind judo like what I have discussed above.

If you want conversation tools geared strictly for negotiation, check out sections like “Bend their Reality”, “Guarantee Execution”, and “Bargain Hard”.

My Review

Before reading personal or professional development books, I try to gauge how much useful knowledge I can gain relative to the time investment needed to finish the book. Now, I will reflect on the gained-knowledge:time ratio for Never Split the Difference.

Usefulness

The usefulness of this book is clear from the Key Takeaways section. I actively apply the lessons learned from this book every single day. I also see the impact of those lessons on myself and my relationships with others:

  • I’m able to create closer, quicker bonds with fewer words than ever before.
  • I’m a much better listener.
  • I’m more patient. I don’t rush as much into saying things I regret.
  • I make better eye contact.
  • I’m better at reading body language since I am talking less and observing more.

The current “conversation engineering” problem I am working out is determining the right context in which to employ Voss’ tools. I feel that Voss’ tools are extremely valuable in more long-form conversation. However, there are many conversations in which one or both parties are in a rush, and these tools are not as appropriate.

I also catch myself listening, mirroring, and labeling so much that I “forget how to talk.” Suddenly, my own voice and responses don’t feel as strong or well-put. I’m still trying to find a balance…

As I said earlier, “this book challenges you to think strategically about what to say while still being attentive and active in the conversation.”

Writing Style

This book is certainly a page turner. Voss introduces each conversational tool with a case study from his career as an FBI hostage/terrorist negotiation expert where the tool was pivotal in reaching an agreement. The pages fly by during these case studies since they are interesting and entertaining even outside the context of a negotiation book. The FBI stories are also an enjoyable reprieve from Voss’ light digressions into psychology research and stories of how these tools were applied in the business world.

Organization

I really appreciated how Voss starts the book with generally-applicable conversation tools and saves the negotiation-heavy tools for the end.

The generalizable conversation tools hooked me in. They improved the gained-knowledge:time ratio for this book because I realized I can use those tips for better conversation in all areas of life.

Once I was hooked, I just fell in love with Voss’ simple prose and his formulaic (but effective) presentation of advice. This made the negotiation-heavy chapters much easier to digest and remember.

The organization also makes this book very easy to re-visit. I will definitely be re-reading the negotiation-heavy chapters when prepping for high-stakes negotiations in my life like salary, property, cars, rent, etc.

Final Verdict

5 out of 5 stars.

The general life lessons learned from Never Split the Difference and its page-turning nature contribute to a high gained-knowledge:time ratio.

It’s a book that can fundamentally change how you approach every day.

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adithyasolai

adithyasolai

Software Development Engineer I @ AWS