Chris Voss has carved a career in high-stakes negotiations, and in Never Split The Difference he shares the nine key principles that gave him the upper hand when it mattered most.
Never Split The Difference, now available to borrow from our library, reads like Chris Voss' memoir. It's a personal account of the two decades he spent negotiating hostage situations for the FBI, collecting skills and tactics that he would later evolve for the private sector, with his consulting firm, The Black Swan Group. Today Voss shares his expertise via practical training, advising Fortune 500 companies through complex negotiations and teaching at prestigious business schools. His background as "a street cop turned FBI agent" informs his straightforward approach to complex problems, and the negotiation style he developed for the "unpredictable [...] real world".
In the first chapter, he recalls an encounter with "the country's brightest students", when he participated in a negotiation course at Harvard Law School. It was here that he realised that negotiations are not about "intellectual power, logic, rational notions of value, and a moral concept of what [is] fair and what [is] not," as "these folks at Harvard learnt it," but about recognising our deepest "fears, needs, perceptions, and desires." Voss reasoned that the same techniques he had used against terrorists and kidnappers could also be applied to business: "after all, kidnappers are just businessmen trying to get the best price." Over the course of the book, which he co-authored with Tahl Raz, the award-winning journalist and co-author of the bestselling Never Eat Alone, he explains his nine key strategies for success, so that anyone can use them, in any situation.
Chapters like "Be a mirror", "Bend their reality", "Create the illusion of control" and "Bargain hard" all lead up to the identification of the "Black Swan," as Voss calls it: "those hidden and unexpected pieces of information – those unknown unknowns – whose unearthing has game-changing effects on a negotiation dynamic." The term goes back to the seventeenth century, and has come to symbolise the things we cannot predict, the things we don't know we don't know. First-person narrated anecdotes offer glimpses into overwhelmingly intense, high-stakes negotiations and reveal the lessons Voss has learned over the years, which he has since reflected on and developed into tangible, universal strategies.
The magic of the book lies in its relevance to everyday life. We all need to negotiate at some point in our personal and working lives, whether it's bargaining for a pay rise or dealing with a difficult landlord, and Voss shows us that negotiation skills are transferable to any situation. If you struggle with complex discussions, would like to learn how to assume the upper hand in negotiations or would simply like to discover the secret to striking a great deal, Never Split the Difference is full of gripping stories and actionable advice.
For more from Voss, you can watch his Never Split the Difference talk at Google, from 2016.