Book Review: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended On It

Book By Chris Voss with Tahl Raz


John F. Gravel

Chris Voss is a master of “emotional intelligence,” or EQ. He started his career policing the streets of one of the most dangerous cities in the country, Kansas City, Missouri. This led to him eventually joining the FBI as a hostage negotiator, where he regularly negotiated with terrorists, bank robbers, and high-level criminals in high-stress situations. Voss eventually became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator based on his prolific use of EQ and the ability to diffuse difficult and complicated situations.

Voss took his experiences and his strategies and turned them into a book, Never Split the Difference. The book places the reader into Voss’ world of high stakes negotiations and divulges solid techniques and skills that saved lives.

The Bad, The Mad, and the Sad

In his Ted Talk, Voss says he wrote the book “about applying the tactical empathy from hostage negotiation to the bullies and the liars that we encounter every day. To the bad, the mad and the sad we run into in our jobs, in our social interactions, at our family gatherings, at the breakfast table.”

Voss teaches how what he calls tactical, or weapons-grade empathy can be used to transform relationships and turn adversaries into loved ones. Because, as Voss says, “the bad, the mad, and the sad are everywhere. They are us.” Gathering information and the use of intelligence can influence behaviors and outcomes, gain trust, establish rapport, and nurture relationships.


“Negotiation is letting the other side have your way.”- Chris Voss

Voss doesn’t believe in compromises. His tactics are radical, turning conventional negotiation strategies on their head. He believes the real art of negotiating is found in the “No’s” and not the “Yeses”  and that there is no such thing as “fair.”

Here are a few key lessons from Voss’ most practical advice:

  • Underlying all negotiations are a network of subterranean desires and needs. Don’t fall for the fool’s gold.
  • Meeting halfway, or splitting the difference, often makes for a bad deal for both parties. Don’t compromise.
  • People are impulsive when under pressure from looming deadlines and do things that go against their best interests.
  • Counterparts will drop the F-bomb (fair) to put the other side on the defensive and therefore gain control. Don’t get suckered; ask them to explain how they believe they are being mistreated.
  • The real value of something depends on someone’s vantage point. Anchor the starting point and bend your counterpart’s reality.
  • Set an extreme anchor, or starting point, to change the perspective on your “real” offer and help it to seem reasonable. Alternatively, in order to appear less aggressive, use a range. Before making the offer, however, emotionally anchor them by warning them of how bad it will be.
  • Ensure your counterpart fears inaction by knowing there is something to lose. People will take more risks to avoid a loss than they will to see a gain.

Using emotional drivers to bend people’s reality could be seen as deceptive. Voss’ response? “We are emotional, irrational beasts who are emotional and irrational in predictable, pattern-filled ways. Using that knowledge is only, well, rational.”

Voss manages to entertain while supporting his strategies through the telling of his real-life failures and successes. He provides actionable items that can be utilized to negotiate contracts, resolve conflicts, or manage stakeholders. Voss provides us with an array of tools to help navigate all human interactions, from the girl at Starbucks to your most significant relationships.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that Voss’ “winner takes all” approach is impractical in a business setting where long term relationships are at play. However, there is a myriad of negotiation theories and strategies to be explored. Never Split the Difference is more than worth a read.

Interested in more from Voss? Check out his Masterclass.