Never Split the Difference: Chris Vos — Learning Negotiation Mastery from an FBI agent

Arush Sharma
2 min readApr 25, 2024


Had a discussion recently with one of the senior leaders — the Director of Technology in a software company on his past experience. On asking him what is the one thing he wished he had learnt in his 20s, the clear answer was:

Negotiation Skills

Think about it, life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for: buying a car, negotiating a salary, buying a home, renegotiating rent, and deliberating with your partner.

Therefore, I started reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Vos, a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI. It offers a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations — whether in the boardroom or at home.

The Premise: Empathy Over Aggression

Voss flips the script on traditional negotiation tactics. Instead of aggressive posturing, he emphasizes building rapport and using “tactical empathy” to understand the other side’s emotional state. Techniques like mirroring, labeling emotions, and using silence strategically all play a role in getting the outcome you desire.

Review: Beyond the Boardroom

While the book is geared toward business professionals, I found its applications surprisingly broad. The core message of active listening and emotional intelligence transcends the boardroom. It’s valuable for anyone who wants to navigate difficult conversations, be it with a demanding boss, a teenager testing boundaries, or even a frustrated customer service rep.

A Different Lens: The Power of “No”

One aspect I found particularly interesting was Voss’s emphasis on the power of “no.” He encourages using labels like “That’s a strong no” to acknowledge the other side’s resistance. This resonated with me because it validates their feelings and opens the door for further communication.

The Verdict

Never Split the Difference is a valuable read, offering a unique perspective on negotiation. Voss’s conversational style and real-life anecdotes make it both informative and engaging. Even if you’re not a high-powered negotiator, the book’s core message of empathy and active listening can benefit anyone who wants to improve their comm skills.

So, is it a magic bullet? No negotiation is guaranteed success, but it equips you with powerful tools to navigate even the trickiest situations.