Chris Voss is a former FBI Negotiator.  Using his knowledge and experience of negotiation he setup the Black Swan Group, which offers training courses utilising the techniques he learnt to help business and leadership professionals.

His book Never Split the Difference explains the approaches he used in the FBI.  What makes it more interesting than your average negotiation book is the real life examples giving you a fascinating look into the world of hostage negotiation.

Although the book is targeted towards the sales professional, I realised as I’d begun my journey trying to find the secrets to be more confident, I realised a lot of these ideas could be applied to make you a more assertive person – after all, what is a negotiation if not expressing yourself in a firm, direct manner to speak up for the interests of yourself (and others).

There are many great things to learn from this book – if you want to become a more confident, effective negotiator then I recommend adding this to your reading list.

In today’s post, I’m going to pick out some quotes from Never Split the Difference, sharing my own personal experiences, and demonstrating how these lessons can be applied to your life.

Getting problems out on a table 

“The reasons why a counterpart will not make an agreement with you are often more powerful than why they will make a deal, so focus first on clearing the barriers to agreement. Denying barriers or negative influences gives them credence; get them into the open.”

Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference
Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference, getting problems out on the table quote.

As a project manager I know too well – unknown problems derail a project.  Therefore, like a negotiation my goals is to reveal these blockers and resolve them as early as possible.

This may be difficult but it’s better these are exposed rather than lay dormant until a critical moment causing even greater pain.

To do this you must use emotional intelligence – learn to read people’s body language, as this often reveals true feelings, even if they are not saying it.

People aren’t always disagreeable in an aggressive way, but through passive aggression, where they won’t say anything, but might do things like ghost you because they were never happy to begin with.

When you sense hesitancy in an individual get them in an environment where they are comfortable to express their true feelings.  You might not like what they have to say, but think of it this way – every time you hear no, you are one step closer to getting to yes.

Active listening 

“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, Never Split the Difference
Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference, active listening quote

You’ve probably experienced a conversation with someone you know isn’t listening, the type of person who treats dialogue simply as a process to wait for their turn to talk.

Think about how this made you feel – like what you have been saying doesn’t matter, is irrelevant, or you think you’re just boring them.

Follow Voss’s advice next time you engage in a dialogue by carrying out active listening – this is where you are opening yourself up to listen to what the speaker is saying, allowing you to direct the conversation based on the information you hear, rather than forcing in your views at every opportunity.

As Voss says listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

When managing I’m responsible for the professional development of my subordinates and active listening has helped me understand in better detail to their ambitions.

To get better at active listening, try out these following tactics: 

Listen without interrupting 

If you think of any questions, ‘park them’ by writing it on a list.  This will enable you to ask these questions at appropriate moments and not break the flow of the person talking.

Mirror words 

To maintain concentration focus on the language that people use – you’ll find they like to use certain words, idioms and clichés.  When you get the opportunity to respond, litter these into your conversation.

This is called the mirror technique, another concept utilised by Voss to build repour, because when you repeat these words back, it helps ease the person that you are listening.  You can find out more about the mirroring technique at this Inc article, or check out the YouTube video to see Chris Voss explain this technique.

My personal approach to implementing mirroring techniques is to say “I just wanted to pick up on where you said…” and quote back to them (to the best of abilities) what they have said, and then dig for further information “what did you mean by that?” 

Stealing thunder 

“List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can.”

Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference
Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference, Accusation audit quote.

Voss introduces the concept of an accusation audit – when you are about to go into a negotiation you anticipate every bad thing the other person may say, and ensure that when the meeting takes place you reveal and address these concerns first.

This technique takes the idea behind the psychological concept of stealing thunder – being open and honest. 

I introduced this concept in my post 8 Mile: The Powerful Psychological Trick of Stealing Thunder – by revealing the negative, you can address any flaws someone may use against you.

Not only does the accusation audit steal the thunder of the person on the other side of the table, when said aloud by yourself it can sound exaggerated, meaning the other person may deny it as truth.

Recently I was accused of a wrong doing at work – I was pretty shocked by the allegation as it sounded out of character. 

Upon further investigation I realised this was something that had been taken out of context and would have been nothing I wouldn’t have said in a team meeting.  If I’d had that opportunity, I could have stolen the thunder of the claim and reduce the damage it caused.


This post has focused on only a small fractions of the lesson from the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.

If you really want to improve your negotiation skills, or become more confident dealing with difficult people, then this book is a must read.

The best approach to learning these techniques is to focus on just one, then trying to apply it at some point during your week. 

You can start by: doing one of the following: 

  1. Solve an issue by getting a problem out on the table, and finding a resolution with your counterpart. 
  2. Become a better conversationalist by practicing active listen – get someone to talk and say as little as possible, only asking questions to help prompt and move the discussion forward. 
  3. Remove the power of negative information about you by stealing thunder.  Use the accusation audit approach to highlight all your wrongs (even the ones that sound ridiculous!) 

I hope this post has helped you in some way.  Do let it help others by sharing it! 

Wishing you the best in your success. 

James @Perfect Manifesto

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