Never Split the Difference

Negotiation is not a battle, but a process of discovery — our goal is to uncover as much information as possible.


What — the art of insinuating similarity to facilitate bonding.

Goal — seek to discover and identify what our opponent wants. Keep people talking and they will reveal things they’d never had otherwise.

How — start with I’m sorry, repeat their last three words, and pause, silence.

Why — We suffer from a cognitive bias for consistency. We fear what’s different and are drawn to similarities. These calibrated questions give the opponent the illusion of control while it buys us time to make them feel safe, build trust, and disarm them.


  • Do not commit to assumptions in advance, use a hypothesis to test during the negotiation.
  • Smile: it creates bonding and puts our opponent in a positive frame of mind.
  • Use silences and slow the conversation down: keep them talking and reveal their secrets.
  • There are three voices we can use: late-night FM DJ, positive and playful, and assertive.


What — surface our opponent’s emotions by making them say it out loud to you.

Goal — see what’s behind your opponent’s feelings and emotions so she’ll reveal something we can use.

How — list their fears by repeating emotions back using the words it seems like, it looks like. We must pay attention, ask what they are feeling, and make a commitment to understanding their world. We are not agreeing with their ideas, just acknowledging the opponent’s situation.

Why — when we closely observe a person’s face, and tone of voice, our brain tends to align with them in a process called neural resonance.


  • Active listening and tactical empathy and: the more you know about someone, the more power you have over them.
  • Listen: emotions are the means, let our opponent state and “put a name” on their emotions.

Getting to the No

What — a “No” is the beginning of every negotiation, asking too quickly for a “Yes” paints us as an untrustworthy salesman.

Goal — make them believe that your idea was theirs in the first place, don’t beat them with logic.

How — purposely mislabel one of their emotions or ask a ridiculous question that can only be answered negatively. Is now a bad time to talk is better than do you have a few minutes to talk.

Why — the moment your opponent disagrees, they feel in control, and draw their own boundaries. This is because they are defining their desires by saying what they don’t want.

That’s right

What — “that’s right” are the words leading to behavioral change.

Goal — make your opponent say “that’s right”. We do that by building trust and convincing them that we understand their dreams and feelings, only then we uncover what truly motivates and drives them.

How — getting to “that’s right” in five steps:

  1. Use pauses and silences, slow down, let them talk.
  2. Mirroring — repeat back.
  3. Labeling — it seems, it looks like.
  4. Paraphrase back their words.
  5. Summarize: labeling + paraphrasing — identify, re-articulate, and emotionally affirm the world according to them.

Why — it creates a subtle epiphany on your opponent where he agrees on a point without the feeling of having to give in. He embraces and believes the idea is his as if the idea has suddenly come up out of his free will.


  • “That’s right” is better than “yes”. But beware that a “yes” is nothing without a “how”.
  • “You’re right”, however, are the worst, meant for you to shut up, and do not trigger a behavior change.

Bend their reality

No deal is better than a bad deal.

Never split the difference

Do not compromise, do not settle. Compromise is driven by fear of losses or to avoid pain. We compromise because it is easy, to be safe.

There are no such things as win-win solutions — they satisfy neither of the two sides. Don’t end up wearing different color shoes.


Make time your ally and don’t get tricked by thinking that getting a good deal now is preferable than a better deal later on. We tend to rush when we see a deadline approaching. Deadlines are often arbitrary, flexible, and hardly ever trigger the consequences we think they will.

Use them in your favor, for example, some corporate salesmen work quarterly.

Irrational decisions

We’re not rational actors. We’re governed by emotion. All negotiations are driven by some hidden (irrational) motivations we need to uncover. Don’t approach a negotiation thinking the other guy thinks like you — that’s not empathy, but projection.

Both offerers making an offer over one dollar, and receivers turning down any offer below one dollar, made an emotional choice.

Usually, people don’t buy “the product”, but an underlying solution to a problem they might have. Not a locksmith, but security.

Decision-making is also driven by Kahneman’s prospect theory. Which describes how individuals are drawn to sure things over probabilities, even when the probability is a better choice. People will take greater risks to avoid losses than to achieve gains.

Frame the negotiation in terms of the potential loss they might incur if they don’t “cooperate”. We tend to overvalue what’s ours.

  • Anchor emotions: set the stage by lowering their expectations (paint a really bad scenario) and explicitly state everything your opponent might fear.
  • Let the other go first, most of the time, but be prepared to handle a low anchor. If you’re dealing with a rookie drop an anchor first.
  • Use ranges backed by external sources: people in these firms usually get between X and Y. But expect they’ll come to the lower end.
  • Show your counterpart that there is something to lose by inaction — appeal to the fear of losses.
  • Pivot to non-monetary terms.
  • Use odd numbers — it seems that you know what’s you’re talking about.
  • Use gifts — people feel obliged to repay the kindness.

The F*** word

The negative emotional value of unfairness outweighs the rational value of the money.

People usually use the F word to surface injustice and put you on the defensive.

  1. If you find yourself on the receiving end, don’t let emotion sink in, take a deep breath and restrain your desire to concede. I apologize, let’s go back to the point where I treated you unfairly and we’ll fix it.
  2. Mirror the “fair” followed by a label.
  3. Open the negotiation with: I want you to feel you’re treated fairly at all times, so stop me at any time you feel like you’re treated unfairly and we’ll address it.

Create the illusion of control

What — use open-ended, calibrated questions to guide and ease the direction of the conversation towards your goals w/o the other person noticing.

Goal — implicitly ask these questions to create the illusion of control on the other side, which will encourage them to speak at length, revealing important information along the way.

How — avoid closed requests such as ”can, is, or do” — or anything that can be responded with ”yes, or no” — and prefer ”how, what, why (use this with caution), where, when, or who”. As seen before, use labeling (”perhaps, it seems”) to ease their responses.

Why — w/o accusing of anything you are pushing them to understand and solve our problem. The key idea is that by asking these questions, we are creating an environment where we are making them active participants in the problem-solving process. In other words, with this illusion of collaboration, w/o noticing, they are now vested into finding a solution to our problem — which they’ll now believe to be theirs as well.

Examples of open-ended questions

  • What’s most important to you?
  • How can I make this better for us?
  • What is that brought us into this situation?
  • How would you like me to proceed?
  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • How am I supposed to do that?

Guarantee execution

Yes is nothing without how.

A deal is nothing without implementation

The use of how questions to subtly say “no” will buy us time, while leading and stirring the conversation towards our needs.

We can’t help it, we are problem solvers and we like to help, hence how will push our counterpart to articulate a solution thinking it was their idea. This is also why negotiation is known as “the art of someone else have your way”.

  • How will we know we are on track?
  • How will we address things once we realize we’re off track?

Other negotiation techniques

  • Always beware of the bigger picture and context of the negotiation. You’ll never know who’s whispering to the decision maker’s ear. Try to understand the other side’s ultimate motivations.
  • Spot inconsistencies using the 7 (words), 38 (tone), (55) body language framework.
  • Look for 3 yes in a different way. Make your opponent agree three times to the same idea. Differentiate between the yeses (commitment, confirmation, and counterfeit).
First published on April 03, 2021