How to Negotiate and Never Split the Difference

Leo Manzione

Are you in the middle of a negotiation? Should you be?

People in business (and in life) rarely read your mind and give you exactly what you want. Instead, you need to ask for it.

That then raises the obvious next question of “How?
The key is knowing how to negotiate.

Unfortunately, negotiation isn’t something we’re born knowing. Rather, it’s a skill that we can master and use to enhance almost all aspects of our lives.

Chris Voss wrote an amazing book on this subject called 
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It

Voss began his career as an FBI hostage negotiator. He is now the CEO and Founder of 
The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems using hostage negotiation strategies.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to become an expert in negotiation than persuading terrorists, bank robbers, and kidnappers to see things your way. Now thanks to Never Split the Difference, we don’t need to actually be in the field to perfect these techniques. 

Voss does a great job making sense of a usually very emotional and overwhelming process by teaching actionable techniques you can start using today to better connect with your counterparts, better understand human nature, and come up with “win-win” solutions.

While this powerhouse of a book is filled with a number of techniques, I’m covering two today that my clients and I have used to great effect:
Labeling and Accusation Audits. You can check out the video below for a summary of these concepts along with an introduction to some helpful cheat sheets:

Labeling a positive emotion reinforces it while labeling a negative can help diminish the negative because it has been acknowledged and understood.


Labeling is a powerful tool you should use throughout a negotiation. In fact, Voss recommends that approximately every 4th verbalization be a label.

When labeling, you’re essentially validating your counterpart’s emotions by acknowledging them. You want to attach a “tentative identification of the dynamics, emotions or circumstances implied by your counterpart’s words, actions or demeanor.” (Source.) Labeling like this shows our counterpart that we’re trying to understand their positions and challenges. When used effectively, labeling is so impactful because it helps us uncover the factors driving their behavior.

Labeling a positive emotion reinforces it while labeling a negative can help diminish the negative because it has been acknowledged and understood.

Voss says you can even purposely mislabel to learn more from the counterpart and potentially get to the core of their true motivation if they attempt to clarify. He recommends always pausing after a label and letting them confirm or deny the assessment.

Below are some potential phrases you can use to help you in your labeling:

  • “It sounds like…”
  • “It looks like…”
  • “It seems like…”
    • “It seems like you value…”
    • “It seems like you’re reluctant to…”
    • “It seems you’re worried that…”

Accusation Audit

An Accusation Audit can be a very powerful part of an effective negotiation. When you conduct an Accusation Audit you’re essentially listing every negative thing the other side could possibly say about you.

Voss recommends that you “make a list of every unreasonable, unfair, crazy, ridiculous accusation your gut instincts are picking up that the other side might say about you. A good indicator is if you have a feeling you’d like to say to them ‘I don’t want you to think…’, it should be on your list.

By acknowledging a negative emotion, we are able to diminish some of its power in the situation. He stresses the importance of not denying the negative feeling. Rather, just presenting it will induce your counterpart to contemplate it and trigger the reduction effect.

So instead of denying, Voss recommends calling it out:

  • “It probably seems like…”
    • “It probably seems like we don’t care about you”
    • “It probably seems like we’re selfish”
    • “It probably seems like I’m a loose cannon”

Labeling is often used in conjunction with an accusation audit.

Supplemental Resources

If you want more techniques like those above, I seriously can’t recommend Never Split the Difference enough. Go grab a copy or download the audio book and prepare to be impressed!

There are a couple supplemental resources I’d also recommend that you can use in conjunction with the text:

  1. The Negotiation One Sheet  by the Black Swan Group – This is a great worksheet you can fill out prior to a negotiation in order to go in prepared. It helps you brainstorm labels and your accusation audit, in addition to other elements. This worksheet is discussed in the Appendix of Never Split the Difference.
  2. Never Split the Difference Cheat Sheet by Yan-David Erlich – This is a very thorough 6 page cheat sheet that summarizes the different concepts covered in the text. Erlich does a great job of providing concise descriptions of the different concepts along with phrasing examples you can work into your negotiations. I recommend printing this out and having it in front of you during your next negotiation.

I hope the above is helpful! If you want to learn more about negotiating effectively, feel free to apply for one of my complimentary diagnostic sessions and we can review these concepts and uncover anything else that might be holding your business back.


Talk soon,

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