Split the difference!

14. April 2024By Anita BleikerIn Negotiation

Split the difference or not? What are the pros and cons of both?

“Never Split the Difference” is the title of a book by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, who shares his extensive experience and techniques in the field of negotiation.

The main principle that Chris Voss conveys in his book is the idea that in negotiations, compromises should not necessarily be made, especially when it comes to important matters. Instead, one should try to achieve better results without making compromises.

A vivid example is given by the case of a hostage-taker demanding $1 million for the release of six hostages. In such situations, it is undoubtedly difficult to split the difference, because what solution do you offer? $0.5 million for three hostages, when the primary goal is to safely free all hostages?

Even in everyday negotiations, such as whether a child should wear sandals or hiking shoes, a compromise that includes one sandal and one hiking shoe proves to be impractical. However, in a negotiation concerning appointments or prices, in my view, a compromise is generally not wrong.

Imagine someone wants to buy your car for CHF 50,000, but your price expectation is CHF 60,000. If you are willing to slightly adjust this downwards and your potential buyer adjusts their offer slightly upwards, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with reaching an agreement at CHF 55,000.

It is important to emphasize that a compromise can only be reached if it falls within the ZOPA “Zone of Possible Agreement” (see also my blog on abbreviations in the negotiation context).

Even if “meeting in the middle” can be advantageous in some cases, it is important to avoid the pitfalls associated with this strategy. Ask the party proposing the compromise why they are offering it. Additionally, you should be aware of the psychological effects of splitting the difference, as it can create a sense of false fairness that could lead to suboptimal results.

The following points should be considered when someone proposes a compromise:

  • When someone suggests splitting the difference, it could mean that there is more value to claim.
  • Continue to negotiate: Use the proposal as a starting point to continue the negotiations rather than agreeing immediately.
  • Gather more information: Ask the other party to explain the reasons for their proposal and gather more details to strengthen your position.
  • Evaluate the context: Assess the circumstances and the value at stake before deciding whether splitting the difference is an appropriate strategy.

In my view, the book “Never Split the Difference” is highly recommended because it illustrates that the negotiation techniques of the FBI are based on the same fundamental principles as any other negotiation, namely, building a good relationship, the so-called rapport.

Furthermore, Chris Voss explains how important it is, for example, to set anchor points and how a “no” can often be used as a starting point for further negotiations.