Book Club #22: Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss

Shaking HandsNegotiations aren’t just integral to business transactions, they are part of our everyday lives. As Chris Voss notes in his excellent book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It: “Everything in life is a negotiation… crossing the street, getting your coffee… you’re probably in 3-7 negotiations every single day.”

While we can’t get into everything Chris discusses in his book in a short article, we can discuss a few key takeaways to improve what you’re doing in business (and life) right now.


While Voss now runs a renowned consultancy called The Black Swan group, he got started in negotiations with the FBI in hostage situations.

One of the earliest and most basic techniques taught is mirroring. This consists of repeating back words used by your counterparty, but with a tone of question. For example, “This deal point is really important to us.” The mirrored response could be, “When you say ‘really important,’ what do you mean by that?” or “Really important?” and just let that tone hang.

By repeating their words back to them respectfully and in a tone of inquiry, you allow the counterparty to give you more information. The more information you have, the better position you are in to negotiate.

The 7/38/55 Rule

A UCLA study some years ago explored the importance of three factors in communication: content, tonality, and body language. The importance broke down across those ratios, i.e. 7% of what was said, the content, was important; 38% was the tone used in communicating that content; but a whopping 55% of what came across to the person hearing the content was captured in the body language.

We may all know this instinctively as part of living life in society, but hearing the numbers broken down really underscores that instinct. Tone of voice is more than five times more important than what you are actually saying! If we keep 7/38/55 in our minds more as we communicate, our communications will be better and our negotiations sharper.

The Accusation Audit

A fascinating technique Chris promotes is something called the “accusation audit.” It’s used to disarm people at the very beginning of a negotiation, by calling out all the possible fears and thoughts that the counterparty might be thinking. In a way, it’s calling attention to the elephant in the room so it can’t be an unspoken threat.

An example Voss gives comes from one of his clients who was getting squeezed from above by changing demands from a federal contract and thus had less money to pay out their subcontractors. Voss’ client had a meeting with one of the subcontractors and wanted to pave a way for things to move forward smoothly. She started out the meeting by saying, “I know you might think we are the big contractors squeezing out the little guy.”

By letting the subcontractor know from the outset that she understood their perspective and saying what was unsaid, Voss’ client was able to disarm and explain what the real situation was, which was something beyond their control, and then look forward to a mutually acceptable solution.

If video hits home with you more, Chris also has a Masterclass available.

We’ve got some great negotiating tips as well. Give us a call if you’ve got questions about a business negotiation you’re involved in.