How To Win All Communication

Chris Voss 'Never Split The Difference' Review...

The Best Bits: Never Split The Difference, Chris Voss

‘Never Split The Difference’ is a series of highest stakes negotiations broken down into their parts for examination. Chris was the FBI’s lead negotiator.

Hostage negotiation in Haiti? Terrorism in the Philippines? Egos, money and conflicting interests in a boardroom? Even walking a bank robber from the ledge. What are the phrases and psychology Chris uses in his communication to get the outcome he wants? And where could it be relevant to you?

Here are a few that stand out…


Match tonality. Match energy. Give emphasis the same emotions you see being expressed. Mirroring is born from active listening. This will feel unnatural if you’re a phony. It will feel unnatural if you enter under a manipulative mindset. But if you’re genuinely interested in what they're saying and genuinely keen in moving the communication in a certain direction… then mirroring will provide rewarding momentum.

Listen closely and repeat the last few words they say, do it once, do it twice, maybe on occasion, do it thrice. But each time you do it you push your partner deeper and deeper into saying what they actually want. Most of the time, things are guarded, and even more common, plainly unknown. But the better you mirror the better you will be at slicing the core.

But critically, it must be real. It must be authentic. Mirroring to be liked, or mirroring in some vein attempt at ‘politeness’ is phony. Humans can still smell authenticity. Not all gut instinct is dead.

But really ask yourself (and be honest), how closely do you listen? How often do you just float on the surface of a conversation. Either unable or unequipped to accept invitation to dive below and inspect further?

Mirroring is authentically emulating everything about your partner’s conversational style. It’s a fine line. Done incorrectly you might rub them the wrong way. You might be judged a condescending prick. But… if you’re a master, you’ll elicit comfort and protection and extract every single detail of negotiation you’ll ever need.

Calibrated Questions…

Shape the direction of the conversation. These questions are open-ended and typically begin with "how" or "what." Calibrated questions encourage the other party to share their thoughts and feelings, they feel in control, let them talk, they are filling up your information bank. 

And at this point, it almost feels like a cheat code… (and it also might be the lowest hanging fruit of all time), but load every base in your favour and then pluck this cherry…

How do you propose we move forward?’ 

I’ve experienced an unusual success at my SaaS sales job with this one.

  • ‘What do you want’

  • ‘Why do you want it’

  • ‘How does that make you feel’

  • ‘How can I do that’

  • ‘How do you suggest I go about doing that’

  • ‘What is it that brought us into this situation’

  • ‘How can we solve this problem’

  • ‘Where do you suggest we move to next’

These calibrated questions don’t accuse, they imply little, they hand over the mirage of control… and are absolutely necessary in any type of negotiation.


To acknowledge the emotions and concerns of the other party. 

You’ve been chatting for a while now, likely across multiple occasions. All this time, recording the information you’re receiving. 

Labeling is to lift their concerns out of this information you’ve received, clearly, as if running through a checklist.

  • ‘You’re not making budget considerations for this year’

  • ‘You’re already locked into a 3 year contract’

  • ‘You dislike X’

  • ‘Market conditions are tough’

  • ‘You don’t want to take this to your boss otherwise you’ll look ungrateful’

  • ‘You love X about your current solution’

  • ‘The timing is not right’

  • On and on and on and on…

When you are mirroring, actively listening, empathetic, inquisitive and taking notes then you should have more labels than you’ll ever need.

This works to disarm potential objections and fosters a sense of understanding. It is a display of empathy that gives your partner undeniable evidence that you are both listening, and thoughtful enough to remember and consider their position.

Labelling is a needle mover, but again, this must come from a position of authenticity. If one starts to feel accused, like they are making excuses, you build a divide that could well become immovable.

The Pinocchio Effect…

Consider this purely information gathering. There is not a clear use case for you to adopt here for conversation, but I think a helpful study to internalise.

Something to carry around with you on your day to day.

In a study of the components of lying, Harvard Business School found that, on average, liars use more words than truth tellers and use far more third-person pronouns. They start talking about ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘it’, and ‘they’, rather than ‘I’…

The theory goes, that this put’s distance between themselves and the lie. And as well, they discovered that liars tend to speak in more complex sentences in an attempt to win over their suspicious counterparts. I know I have been guilty of this one before…

We’ve all been there on a sales call. Asked to describe a feature or process that we just plainly don’t know. You spend more words fluffing around this blind spot than you do nailing the parts you can see. If the client is paying attention, they notice. Never lie in a conversation. Assume your counterpart has a BS detector as good as your own. Do not lie. Do not be a phony. 

In Conclusion…

There is more advice than you’ll be able to remember in this book. I couldn’t recommend it higher for anyone who takes the art of communication seriously.

This whole blog post in fact, is more for my personal use than anything else. By writing it down, forcing some organisation to these ideas, I hope to have internalised them more deeply than had I just read them.

Use this post as a guide for some quick wins… but invest in the source material for a fundamental shift in the way you think about professional conversations.

Plus a couple tricks worth keeping up your sleeve…
  • The rule of three… asking a slight variation of the same question 3 times to elicit maximum information from your partner. 

  • People will take more risks to avoid a loss than they will to realise a gain. Use your counterpart's loss aversion to make them feel they will lose something if the deal falls through.

  • Get your counterpart to say, "That's right!" Once they say this, you've reached a breakthrough moment. They are acknowledging that you understand where they are coming from. It’s subconscious, but it’s powerful. 

  • Create deadlines and timelines. Time kills deals.

  • Bring gifts. This works even better in non gift giving cultures.

  • Leverage non-monetary requests and concessions in a negotiation. For example, timelines, access, referrals… think outside the box.

  • As a negotiator, you should strive for a reputation of being fair. Your reputation precedes you.

  • When numbers are weighing you down… use odd ones. It’s a weird trick of psychology, but 37,548 sounds way closer to ‘thats as high as I can go’ than does a clean 38,000.

  • Finally… Chris’s personal favourite. The Ackerman Model. Too close a deal, start with a high anchor, make steady, small concessions, and conclude with a non-monetary request.

    Works 70% of the time. Every-time.

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