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Building Better Business Book Club 

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Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

“Never split the difference, Negotiating as if your life depended on it” by Chris Voss is possibly one of the best books on negotiation that I’ve read in a long time. The author is a former FBI hostage negotiator, yet much of what he describes applies to all of us, every day.

The initial approach

His approach is to create the right environment for negotiation to take place. The book starts by describing how best to build and establish rapport. Voss discuss using a technique called “mirroring”. Replying with up to three words used by the other person (and with curiosity) creates space for more information to be exposed. Voss then goes on to discuss how to create trust and build on the sense of collaboration that has been developed. He suggests “labelling”, a technique to describe to the other party how their message is being received by you. This unlocks more information as they either agree with your label or identify what is incorrect in your assumptions.

What is at stake?

In order to generate momentum in the conversations, he wants to make it safe for people to reveal the real stakes at play. By asking questions that lead to a “no” he uncovers the boundaries and builds further understanding. These techniques demonstrate that you have been listening carefully and thinking about what you are hearing. It creates the ability to move quickly and builds momentum as you go.

This was one of the most important elements of the book. Particularly for those who are Building Better Business. When working with clients towards a common aim momentum matters. Building on the progress that is made by carefully agreeing what is, and what is not happening. Mirroring, labelling and understanding boundaries builds trust, empathy and speed. Critical parts of building any business.

“That’s right”

Voss goes further, he identifies that there is an important difference between somebody agreeing with you as the negotiator – “You’re right” – and agreeing with the principle that you are discussing “That’s right”. When you hear those two words you have more than agreement, you have acceptance of the principle. What Vos is advocating is bending the perceptions of reality to create an environment that builds mutual recognition of what is fair.

The business opportunity.

The last two chapters are specific about gaining agreement in a more business-style environment, for example, getting to the price that you really want. I’ve put these techniques into practice with immediate and positive effects on my business.

In the last chapter. Voss talks about finding the “Black Swan”, the unexpected things that nobody expected. In any negotiation, we start knowing some things are true and knowing that there are other things which we as yet do not know. We seek out those other things through our conversations. Yet, there are always elements that can remain completely unknown. We don’t even know to go looking for them.

When we Identify and explore the things we know exist, yet are currently unexplored new insights can appear. We need to be listening out for them. Breakthrough ideas don’t come from known things. They come from the unexpected, the unusual. Good questioning in an empathetic, trusting environment built by the earlier techniques, can make a big difference.

If we use our curiosity and listen with care, There may be elements that we discover that can influence or change the way that we negotiate. Often the needs and desires of the other party are not where we expect them to be. There may be some pressing problems of which we are unaware of something happening away from the topic of the negotiations that affect the party’s ability to move. We can construct a better deal by revealing them. That is still a great deal for us.


Being curious and listening well is important. Reflecting what others say, labelling their moods, their feelings and the impact that those things are having on us, creates the foundations needed. We get the outcomes we want when we have the clarity that we need. Voss give us the language and the tools to discuss, explore and negotiate effectively in every situation.

If you want to be Building Better Business every day then negotiation is a key part of the necessary skillset. If negotiation is that important then reading Voss’s book. has to be one of the key things to do.

I cannot recommend it enough.

About the author

Chris Voss started his career as a policeman in Kansas City Missouri, He then joined the FBI and trained as a hostage negotiator at the FBI training centre, Quantico. His skill is rooted in the real-life experiences of hostage negotiations. Nothing much can come with higher stakes than the lives of others.