Magnify Sales Book Club – ‘Never Split the Difference’ in tough negotiations

Magnify Consulting-Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Strong negotiation skills are probably near the top of your sales requirements right now. The world as we know it has changed forever. We’re still waiting to settle into the new normal, unsure how far off that may be.

With so many commercial arrangements up for grabs and up in the air, how do you ensure that you bring your best self to those tough sales conversations, especially when you are talking about money?

Whether you call it a price or call it an investment, at the end of the day you are still working to get a potential customer to pay you to solve their problem. Are you feeling nervous about some of those conversations?  ‘Never Split the Difference’ is just the book for you.

What’s Special about this month’s book?

This is an incredibly easy-to-read book about what must be one of the most dreaded sales topics – negotiating.

Not only is this book about negotiating, it’s about win-win negotiating rather than what the author Chris Voss calls ‘wimp-win’ negotiation. With so many businesses having base-line revenue literally on the line, this is an excellent book to help you get the results you need to stay in business and win.

Book Details for ‘Never Split the Difference’

Book Title‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It’

Author – Chris Voss

Publication Date – 2016

Publisher – Penguin Random House

Who is Chris Voss?

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator turned into one of the preeminent practitioners and professors of negotiating skills in the world.  He served as the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the FBI’s hostage negotiation representative for the National Security Council’s Hostage Working Group.

While in the FBI, Chris literally negotiated to win and save lives in international crisis and high-stakes negotiations. He was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, as well as the FBI’s hostage negotiation representative for the National Security Council’s Hostage Working Group.

During Chris’ 24-year tenure in the Bureau, he was trained in the art of negotiation by not only the FBI but Scotland Yard and Harvard Law School. He has gone on to teach business negotiation at Harvard University, among others.

In 2008 Chris formed The Black Swan Group, a US-based consulting firm with a unique programme and team that applies these globally proven techniques to the business world.

What is the book’s premise?

That you can become a better negotiator and achieve the outcomes that work best for you and your business.

Even better – Yes – it is possible to develop good negotiation skills. Chris’ approach helps you hold your nerve while empowering you with some simple questions and techniques which deliver surprisingly good results.

Does the book deliver on its premise?

Yes, this is definitely a book that delivers on its premise. Chris has distilled more than two decades of high-stakes negotiations in the FBI into a nine-step framework that works for negotiations at home, in public, in business.

Chapter One steps through old-school theories about negotiation, outlining how best-practice negotiation has evolved to where it is today. The following chapters unpack Chris’ nine key principles to successful negotiation.

Negotiation, done well, goes far beyond technically correct words and almost into art.

One can only be an exceptional negotiator, and a great person, by both listening and speaking clearly and empathetically; by treating counterparts – and oneself – with dignity and respect; and most of all by being honest about what one wants and what one can – and cannot – do. Every negotiation, every conversation, every moment of life, is a series of small conflicts that, managed well, can rise to creative beauty. – Pg 243

The heart of sales is about solving customers’ problems. The heart of good negotiation is clearly about solving your problems while simultaneously solving the problems of your opponent/spouse/potential customer. ‘Never Split the Difference’ will have you negotiating to win while the other party also wins.

It’s about going back to basics and remembering that the heart of good negotiation is honest conversation between two people. That’s the sort of negotiation Chris Voss wants to help you achieve.

What is the author’s voice like?

With a relaxed and open voice, Chris Voss draws the reader in. You can see from the way ‘Never Split the Difference’ goes naturally from one step to the next that Chris would be a formidable negotiator.

Chris Voss is honest. He freely admits that – Yes, there have been times when he made mistakes. Of course, when you’re a hostage negotiator at the FBI, a bad day at the office wasn’t just a malfunctioning printer – it meant lives lost.

Somehow after all that pressure, Chris has seen so much that he appears to have learned to relax, to be speaking in his ‘late night FM DJ voice’ which he calls ‘the voice of calm and reason’ – pg 32.

Chris confidently lays bare his experiences, good and bad, so that we can have the benefit of his 20/20 hindsight and become better negotiators.

Any memorable quotes?

This book is full of memorable quotes.


‘Kidnappers are just businessmen trying to get the best price.’ – pg 8


‘If you take a pit bull approach with another pit bull, you generally end up with a messy scene and lots of bruised feelings and resentment. Luckily, there’s another way without all the mess.’ – pg 44


‘Politics aside, empathy is not about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them. Empathy helps us learn the position the enemy is in, why their actions make sense (to them), and what might move them.

As negotiators we use empathy because it works.’ – pg 54


‘So don’t settle and – here’s a simple rule – never split the difference. Creative solutions are almost always preceded by some degree of risk, annoyance, confusion, and conflict. Accommodation and compromise produce none of that. You’ve got to embrace the hard stuff. That’s where the great deals are. And that’s what great negotiators do.’ – pg 116

Does negotiation mean pushing for what you want?

In a post-lockdown world where you’ve either suffered massive losses or else know people who have, it can be scary to think about negotiating for what you want. There have been several posts on social media asking if it is even alright to still be selling.

What would Chris Voss say? From his book, Chris is not afraid of some good negotiation to flush out the parameters for both sides to be happy.  Good negotiation is doing both sides a big favour by ‘pushing them toward a collaborative solution’. – pg 243.  This means achieving a solution where both parties win.

It’s very important to be ethical in your negotiations. ‘With the style of negotiation taught in the book – an information-obsessed, empathetic search for the best possible deal – you are trying to uncover value, period. Not to strong-arm or to humiliate.’ pg 243

Keep thinking about the value you deliver for your customers, and the investment they need to make to get that value. Check your pricing levels for the dampened market that we are facing in 2020.  It may be appropriate to lower your pricing in some instances, or to brainstorm how else you can surprise your customer with astounding service.

When you have honestly determined your value and confirmed your ideal target market, stand confidently on the value you deliver. If you pitch your offering right, to the right people at the right time, revenue will grow. The flipside of failing to negotiate is completely losing out for your business while the other party enjoys a big advantage. This is not a sale you can afford unless there is a non-financial benefit that you are happy with.

Successful negotiation gets to the heart of what both parties want. Honing your negotiation skills will help achieve this for you and for your customers.

What are some insights I can get from reading this book?


The last chapter is the pure negotiation gold – a demonstration of why you need to keep an open mind just in case there is some critical information you could be missing. In short, this is where Chris unpacks The Black Swan theory.

‘Black Swans are events or pieces of knowledge that sit outside our regular expectations and therefore cannot be predicted.’ – pg 216

As a negotiator, it is your job to keep sifting for further information and flush out those ‘unknown unknowns’ that could make all the difference to the result.


‘You have to beware of “behind the table” or “Level II” players – that is, parties that are not directly involved but who can help implement agreements they like and block ones they don’t. … At the end of the day, the deal killers often are more important than the deal makers.’ – pg 171


‘You can use your voice to intentionally reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch. Distrusting to trusting. Nervous to calm. In an instant, the switch will flip just like that with the right delivery.’ – pg 32


‘Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.’ – pg 94


At the heart of it, we all want good relationships more than we may realise. Any fear of negotiation is probably more to do with fear of conflict than the other person.

‘The natural first impulse for most of us is to chicken out, throw in the towel, run. The mere idea of tossing out an extreme anchor is traumatic. That’s why wimp-win deals are the norm in the kitchen and in the boardroom.’ – pg 242

How relevant is this book right now?

This could be one of the most important books you will read in 2020. We are operating in what is probably the most challenging business environment any of us have ever faced.

Protecting, maintaining and growing your revenue is paramount.

Improving your negotiation skills will give you the competitive edge you need to get through the next six to twelve months.

Did the book live up to expectations?

This book exceeded expectations. Good negotiation is surprisingly simple, or at least that’s how Chris Voss makes it seem.

The techniques definitely work. We’ve utilised some of Chris’ techniques in a recent situation and achieved a very satisfactory result without any associated stress.

‘Never Split the Difference’ over-delivers with the unexpected Appendix where Chris walks through a ‘Negotiation One Sheet’ that will help prepare you for any negotiations you face.

Who would you recommend this book to?

This is definitely a book for our time, especially for sales and business leaders

  1. Who are facing hard conversations about redundancies, bank loans, bad debtors or revenue growth
  2. Who want to protect and maintain pre-lockdown revenue levels
  3. Who want to negotiate better supplier terms to get you through the next six months

Who should buy this book?

  • Everyone who wants to get through coffee or supermarket queues faster
  • Revenue generators facing a shrinking sales pipeline and stiff competition
  • Business leaders who want to make the right decisions for your company, and bring your team along with you

Where can I buy this book?

For less than $30 you can start the journey to becoming a better negotiator.

Recommended snacks to accompany reading this book?

Good negotiation is about gathering information and empathetically listening to the other party. You will need snacks that help you be alert and relaxed at the same time.  Social distancing means you could be negotiating via Zoom or on a phone call, or perhaps a couple of metres apart in a safe space.

Best read this book accompanied by your own generous, individual bowl of oven-roasted kumara wedges served with aioli.  This will give you a sustained energy boost without any resulting plunge in sugar levels. Plus your favourite coffee with a couple of choc-dipped gingerbread spoons for any stirring you need to do.

For all-day negotiations, order in your snacks a couple of days beforehand so you can focus on your preparation.

Would you like to read this book for free?

Head over to the Magnify Sales Book Club to enter this month’s Sales Book of the Month draw.

‘Like’ our Magnify Consulting Facebook page for an extra entry.