One of the pleasures of summer is taking time to relax with a good book that both entertains and informs. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss does both. It’s a book that will raise your relational intelligence. You would do well to put it on your summer reading list. I review it in today’s episode.

Get ready for summer

Some magazines and newspaper articles will soon be writing pieces about the top ten, or top five, books to put on your summer reading list. I’m not going to put out a list, but I do have a recommendation of one book that I’m pretty sure you will enjoy.

It’s a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. I found it to be well-written, entertaining, and something that taught me a few things to increase my relationship skills. I’m going to talk about the book in today’s episode because I think you’re going to find it helpful, too. So keep listening. You’re going to like this one.

Never Split the Difference – Negotiating as if your life depended on it

[NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Caring for Others, sponsor of this podcast, earns a small commission from qualifying purchases.]

The book I’m referring to and reviewing is in some ways a follow-up to episode 154 of this podcast, “How to Listen Like a Hostage Negotiator.”

The name of the book is Never Split the Difference, with the subtitle Negotiating as if your life depended on it. It’s by Chris Voss a former hostage negotiator with the FBI. Now at first glance, you might think a book about hostage negotiation as something not terribly interesting. Becoming a hostage negotiator may not be one of your five-year goals. You’re probably not going to suggest it as a career for your children.

This book is so much more than that. I first came across the book when I heard the author on a podcast I listened to. The stories he told from his experience in negotiating the release of hostages were fascinating. He got me hooked, so I read his book, Never Split the Difference. I recommend you put it on your summer reading list.

Amazon Reviews

For this review, I looked on Amazon to see what others who read the book thought of it. At the time I checked, Never Split the Difference had over 23,000 reviews and was number 19 on Amazon's bestseller list. 94% of the ratings were either 4 or 5 stars.

The few negative reviews either complained about a printing problem with pages being cut off or blank pages. The other complaint was some readers thought the author was too egotistical and self-promoting. I get that and see a little of it more in the beginning of the book. I’m usually sensitive to this kind of thing, but frankly, it didn’t bother me in the least, especially as I got into the book and saw the compassion he had on occasion for people.

Other reviews said there were too many stories of negotiating sessions he was involved in and that the book doesn’t have much to offer for the rest of us. My perspective, however, is just the opposite. I actually loved the stories because they were well-written, first of all, and secondly, they all illustrated principles of human interaction.

The 94% who gave it a 4 or 5-star rating had good reason to do so. The rest of this review is my reasons for recommending you put the book on your summer reading list.

Who the book is for

If you like stories of good guys going after bad guys you’ll like this book for that reason alone. You’ll also like it if you’re involved in sales or running a business, as I was for 25 years. There are many strategies the author used in hostage negotiation that are applicable in the business world.

If you’re a parent or interact with other people, you’ll find this book helpful. If you plan to ask your boss for a raise, you’ll find a few useful suggestions in the book. When you’re selling or buying stuff at a garage/rummage/yard sale this book will save you money.

Furthermore, and this is most interesting and another reason to put this book on your summer reading list. We have a number of missionaries who listen to this podcast, and if you’re one of them, especially if you serve in a part of the world where hostage-taking is not unusual you would do well to read Never Split the Difference.

The author was deeply involved in the negotiations to secure the release of New Tribes missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham held hostage by a radical Islamist group in 2001. He comments at length on what went wrong and calls it the “biggest failure in my professional life.” He talks about it in the first few pages of Chapter 7. It’s a tragic story that didn’t have to end the way it did.

Finally, if you hate conflict, this book is a must-read. Especially the last chapter. There’s really good stuff here that you won’t find in most other books on dealing with conflict.

Structure of the book

The paperback version I have is 258 pages in length, which includes a helpful appendix. A footnotes section and index follow. The table of contents lists ten chapters, with a brief phrase that describes each chapter.

One of the helpful things about how the book is structured is that except for the first one, each chapter ends with a section he calls “Key Lessons.” It reviews and summarizes the main points the author is trying to get across. I wouldn’t recommend reading only this section, as you’ll miss the stories the author uses to illustrate each of the key concepts. The book is an easy read for your summer reading list and it won’t take long to get through it.

The premise of the book

The experiences the author shares in hostage negotiations are all interesting and engaging. And there’s a heavy dose of that. But more than this, I enjoyed and learned from how he related to people so very different from the kind of people you and I interact with. Reading the book will raise the relational intelligence level of most readers.

I’ve been a student of listening for many years and I learned principles and techniques of listening I have not come across anywhere else. In fact, if I were to teach a college course on listening, this book would be required reading in my syllabus. While I’m waiting for the teaching offers to pour in, I’m content for now to just recommend you put Never Split the Difference on your summer reading list.

Passages from the book that grabbed me

I’ll start by sharing some passages from the book that grabbed me, because I think they will grab you, too.

One line from the book that I won’t soon forget is this question,

“How am I supposed to do that?”

You can use it when buying a car and the salesman wants you to pay more than you want to pay. I used it when I sold a car for my son when the buyer wanted to pay less than what my son wanted to sell it for. It worked!

Our daughter used the same line when she and her husband sold a house they had rehabbed. “How am I supposed to sell the house for X, when we’ve already put in Y thousands of dollars to fix it up?” It worked for them, too. The author goes into the psychology of why this one question is so effective. I won’t go into it here. It’s another reason to put Never Split the Difference on your summer reading list.

The author suggests several other questions in chapter 7 to ask that would be helpful for the parties involved in dealing with marital issues, parenting, and differences between friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I will list them in the show notes, but for now, here they are:

  • What about this is important to you?
  • How can I help make this better for us?
  • How would you like me to proceed?
  • What is it that brought us into this situation?
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What is the objective?/What are we trying to accomplish here?
People who lie to us

Following this, in chapter 8, author Chris Voss cites a Harvard University study showing that “on average, liars use more words than truth-tellers and far more third-person pronouns. They start talking about him, her, it. one, they, and their rather than I, in order to put some distance between themselves and the lie.”

Throughout the book, the author sprinkles in results of various research studies that show me he’s not just shooting from the hip in presenting his arguments.

“My name is Chris”

Also in chapter 8 is an interesting relational technique I’m going to try sometime. The author writes:

“A few years ago I was in a bar in Kansas with a bunch of fellow FBI negotiators. The bar was packed, but I saw one empty chair. I moved toward it but just as I got ready to sit the guy next to it said, ‘Don’t even think about it.”

“Why? I asked, and he said, “Because I’ll kick your …. [I’ll stop and let you figure out what part of the anatomy the guy was going to kick].” Back to the author’s story.

“He was big, burly, and already drunk, but look, I’m a lifelong hostage negotiator – I gravitate toward tense situations that need mediation like a moth to the flame.

“I held out my hand to shake his and said, ‘My name is Chris.’

“The dude froze. and in the pause my fellow FBI guys moved in, patted him on the shoulders, and offered to buy him a drink. Turned out he was a Vietnam veteran at a particularly low point. He was in a packed bar where the entire world seemed to be celebrating. The only thing he could think of was to fight. But as soon as I became ‘Chris,’ everything changed.

I just love this story of how he diffused the guy’s anger, and how once he knew more of the man’s story he viewed him with compassion. It's another reason to put the book on your summer reading list. I’ve learned over the years that when I see an angry person, there’s usually a hurt, sad, or fearful person underneath the angry exterior.

The Chris discount

The author goes on to tell another story right after the bar incident. He was in a shopping mall and picked out some shirts he wanted to buy. The checkout clerk asked him if he wanted to join their frequent buyer program.

“I asked her if I got a discount for joining and she said, ‘No.’

“So I decided to try another angle. I said in a friendly manner, ‘My name is Chris. What is the Chris discount?’

“She looked from the register, met my eyes, and gave a little laugh.

‘I’ll have to ask my manager, Kathy,’ she said and turned to the woman who’d been standing next to her.

“Kathy, who’d heard the whole exchange, said ‘The best I can do is ten percent.’

“Humanize yourself. Use your name to introduce yourself. Say it in a fun, friendly way. Let them enjoy the interaction, too. And get your own special price.” I love this guy’s approach. I wish this guy was a neighbor.

This second story Chris Voss shared certainly humanizes himself for me. It’s a great example of what I’ve been saying lately at the end of each episode, spread a little relational sunshine this week. Use a little humor. Lighten things up in our relationships. Make people smile every now and then.


In chapter 9 he tells two stories of how what he learned in hostage negotiation that helped him buy a car that listed for $36,000. He got the dealership to sell it to him for $30,000. He also shared a story of one of his MBA students negotiating a rent decrease after it had just gone up.

The Author says this about negotiating that applies to any relationship, “It’s not how well you speak, but how well you listen that determines your success.”

For me, the most inspiring part of the book comes near the end, in chapter 10:

“Every engineer, every executive, every child – all of us want to believe we are capable of the extraordinary. As children, our daydreams feature ourselves as primary players in great moments: an actor winning an Oscar, an athlete hitting the game-winning shot. As we grow older, however, our parents, teachers, and friends talk more of what we can’t and shouldn’t do than what is possible. We begin to lose faith.

A map to joy

“But when someone displays a passion for what we’ve always wanted and conveys a purposeful plan of how to get there, we allow our perceptions of what’s possible to change. We’re all hungry for a map to joy, and when someone is courageous enough to draw it for us, we naturally follow.”

What he says here so reminds me of a text I received a few months ago, completely out of the blue, from a former student of mine decades ago when I was a teacher. Geraldine has stayed in touch with Janet and me over the years and wrote the following:

Hi John! I hope this finds you and Janet happy and healthy! I just want to let you know how you inspired my life. I would not be a nurse without you. You told me so many years ago that I was smart enough to go to college. I have touched so many lives because of you. Thank you for that! Sincerely, Geraldine

This brought tears to my eyes. Without even knowing it I drew a “map to joy” for her so long ago. I bet many of you have done the same thing for others, too. It’s such a great privilege to do so.


Back to the author. He writes:

“If this book accomplishes only one thing, I hope it gets you over the fear of conflict and encourages you to navigate it with empathy. If you’re going to be great at anything – a great negotiator, a great manager, a great husband, a great wife – you’re going to have to do that. You’re going to have to ignore that little genie who’s telling you to give up, to just get along – as well as that other genie who’s telling you to lash out and yell.”

And finally, the last few lines near the end of the book read as follows:

“… I’m going to leave you with one request: Whether it’s in the office or around the family dinner table, don’t avoid honest, clear conflict. It will get you the best car price, the higher salary, and the largest donation. It will also save your marriage, your friendship, and your family.

“One can only be an exceptional negotiator, and a great person by both listening and speaking clearly and empathically; 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.

“Embrace them.”

So what does all this mean for YOU?

Are you creating a map for joy for anyone? Has anyone done it for you? If so, thank them, even if it’s decades later, like Geraldine did for me.

Finally, and I hope this is obvious by now, put Never Split the Difference on your summer reading list. If you buy it from Amazon, please use the link I have at the bottom of the show notes. This will generate a very small commission for our missionary Care ministry, Caring for Others. The book won’t cost you any more.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

Reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss will raise your level of relational intelligence in an entertaining way. It will increase your relationship skills and bring more joy into your life.

Please let me know what you think about today’s episode. I’d love to hear from you.


In closing, I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to get the book Never Split the Difference and put into practice some of the things you heard today.

It will help you experience the joy of relationships God intends for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

That’s about it for today. Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the show notes. And remember to spread a little relational sunshine with the people you met this week. Oh, and don’t forget to ask for the “John discount.” That’s “John with an h.” Let me know how that works for you.

Until we meet up again next week, goodbye for now.

Related episodes/resources you may want to check out

154: How to Listen Like a Hostage Negotiator

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?-

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Caring for Others earns a small commission from qualifying purchases.

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