Takeaways: Never Split the Difference (Chris Voss w/Tahl Raz)

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I originally listened to the Never Split the Difference audiobook, so this will just be a summary of the most powerful and useful takeaways.

⭐ I used some of the techniques in this book to successfully negotiate a highly-qualified Director-level candidate who refused a job offer I sent, to a signature that night. More about that below.

The book plants a seed of credibility when the author upends decades of academic negotiation technique at Harvard in a single office visit. As an ex-hostage negotiator, he’s got grit and real-world experience that the leather-bound books of HBS can’t compete with (and, apparently, don’t).

Then Voss teases the real story. “Heart vs. Mind”

  • Takeaway #1: Most negotiations are emotionally-driven (rather than rational problem-solving.

  • Takeaway #2: The four-steps to non-confrontational confrontation

The four steps are:

  1. Use the “late-night FM DJ voice”

  2. Start with “I’m sorry,”

  3. Mirror what they’ve said/tone

  4. Silence. Let step 3 do its work.

⭐ After I saw the candidate’s email politely declining our offer, I gave them a call. I said “Hi, X, I’m sorry, I just saw your email, you’re passing on the offer we just sent over?” then clapped up. Just as Voss promised, the candidate reframed their “no” with more detail, and I was able to learn a few tidbits which I would use to open things up later in the conversation.

  • Takeaway #3: Labeling, turning emotions into words, and repeating them back to people

  • Takeaway #4: Neutralize the negative, reinforce the positive

  • Takeaway #5: Disarm by acknowledging concerns & weaknesses

⭐ My candidate had indicated some concerns about base salary and medical coverage in the mirroring exercise, so it was clear I should dig in here. I attempted to label his emotions. I might say “It seems like you don’t think this is market rate”, and then wait for him to agree or disagree, then I’d calibrate: “It seems like you might be able to cultivate a higher offer elsewhere”. I did attempt to neutralize the negatives (tiny company compared to their last role, med-low market salary) and reinforce the positives (founders’ pedigrees, we’d all work well together, hard technical problems, company was solving interesting problem). All while attempting to better understand the candidate’s POV and put myself in their shoes.

  • Takeaway #6: Train yourself to hear “no” as something besides a rejection

Holy moly this one hit me hard. So, so good. This is such a good way to set course for a solution-based questions. “What about this doesn’t work for you?”

As an aside, I really dig Voss’s disdain for the ego-driven “Getting to Yes” strategies 🙏

You are not the subject of a negotiation, so who is, and how do we make them feel like they’re winning? Think of “Getting to Yes” as serving yourself where getting to “no” puts power, esteem, and trust in others’ hands.

Voss also points out the logical failure of “priming” people with low-ball “yes” questions before making your big ask. You’re not building up credit, you’re taking it out! He lays out a beautiful fundraising scenario in the book you should really check out.

⭐ Here’s how I used the power of “no” in my candidate negotiation. I stated plainly, “would you sign an offer for $XXX,XXX tonight?”. They say “no”. Fantastic, I have a starting point and I’m starting to build a canvas. “Would you consider a signing bonus?”, “Would you consider joining our executive bonus plan?”, “Would you consider extra PTO to spend time with your family?”. Things would have flowed differently if I started with “yes”.

  • Takeaway #7: Build a “that’s right” moment

Summarize the state of things, what’s been said, and acknowledgements of emotions. The world according to your negotiatee. Faced with a good summary, your counterpart will say “that’s right” (or some version of it). If not, you should rollback and keep working on building your case.

I’ve used this in product research and in job interviews as well, purely for repertoire-building. A few moments to recap and validate your work while doing research can leave someone feeling accomplished.

⭐ I was able to sum up my candidate’s worldview, and attain a “that’s right”. I understood why they’d turned me down, and now they were back in the game. From there, we built a win-win solution.

  • Takeaway #8: Bend their reality by reframing

🔖 Bookmark: I’m skimming back through the book as I write this. I’m just about at page 128 out of ~240. More to come here.


✅ The book again is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. I recommend this because Voss offers a ton of subtle, but game-changing optimizations on how to deliver your words and conduct yourself. Very nutritious book here.

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