Douglas Sherk's Reviews > Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
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Oct 03, 2016

really liked it
Recommended to Douglas Sherk by: Brandon Jesse Wang

Never Split the Difference is a fascinating series of anecdotes and observations written by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator. He clearly intended for this to be the "one negotiation book to rule them all," as he both invalidates and builds on top of the ideas of Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In, the former bible in this space. The essential innovation is that the exploration and manipulation of feelings are a core part of good negotiating.

There's no question that the author is one of the foremost experts on the topic. His knowledge is the holy grail: a combination of theory and practice in the most difficult of situations. Furthermore, he's unique in that he began his career on the ground, only later transitioning into academia. This gives the book a unique battle-tested flavor that I found lacking in Getting to Yes.

This is one of few self-help books that entertained me with its stories. The author recounts one tale of his team huddled around a table in the penthouse of a dimly lit apartment building, assailants holding hostages at gunpoint just across the street. The negotiators took turns speaking in their best late-night FM DJ voices, uttering gentle and reassuring coos into the phone for hours until the assailants threw up their arms and surrendered. In another flashback, he expounded on the beginnings of his career at a volunteer-run suicide hotline call center.

This book lacks a system of feedback to understand where you're failing and how to improve. It offers the kernel of one, as it lays out how to "nudge" the opposite side to say "that's right" instead of "you're right." This is important because a less defensive opposition that believes that it's in control is easier to negotiate with. Unfortunately, this idea isn't developed enough for the implementing reader to know what they should be improving.

As the author is incredibly knowledgeable and experienced, he deserves lavish praise–though the book is replete with self-promotion. He did an excellent job of burying this within the emotional highs of his stories. I only caught my irrational exuberance thanks to the tactics espoused in a book mentioned in the introduction, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I suspect that many people gave this book 5 stars because of this style of writing.

Don't get me wrong; the tactics work. My results have improved significantly since beginning to internalize these ideas. Friends have told me the same. I've also changed the way I fundamentally think about negotiation. If that's what you're looking for, then you should benefit from reading this book.

If you're looking for a quick fix, you'd be better served by a summary or a crash course from an experienced friend. You'll have to take lots of notes and put theories into practice, in the process learning how much incredible depth there is to negotiation. No matter, the stories should engage you, even if the lessons don't.
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Reading Progress

October 3, 2016 – Shelved
October 3, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
April 10, 2017 – Started Reading
April 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

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