A Coaches Guide to….’NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE by Chris Voss’

Chris Voss is a former FBI Hostage Negotiator. In his book ‘Never Split the Difference’, he not only shares ideas on how he negotiated with some of the worlds toughest criminals, but on how to develop relationships, how to be persuasive, and how to be a good listener; All vital attributes for coaches (and day to day management).

“Allow me to let you in on a secret: Life is negotiation. The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want.”

Chris Voss

You can purchase the book here

Voss starts the book with the following statement: 

The first step to achieving a mastery of daily negotiation is to get over your aversion to negotiating. You don’t need to like it; you just need to understand that’s how the world works. Negotiating does not mean browbeating or grinding someone down. It simply means playing the emotional game that human society is set up for. In this world, you get what you ask for; you just have to ask correctly. So claim your prerogative to ask for what you think is right.

So how does this help in a coaches day to day?

The main practicalities for coaches in this book include: 

  1. Creating connexions through communication
  2. Feedback & questioning
  3. The power of your voice (different tones for different situations)

These tools, then, are nothing less than emotional best practices that help you cure the pervasive ineptitude that marks our most critical conversations in life. They will help you connect and create more meaningful and warm relationships. That they might help you extract what you want is a bonus; human connection is the first goal.

Chris Voss

Creating Connexions Through Communication

Chris Voss says that one of the most effective ways to create an instant connexion is mirroring (also called isopraxism).

It’s (mirroring) a phenomenon (and now technique) that follows a very basic but profound biological principle: We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar.

Chris Voss

For the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one gets to a Jedi mind trick. Simple, and yet uncannily effective.” Have a look at Chris Voss using the mirroring technique in a hostage situation:

In addition to mirroring, Voss also uses labels to create a connexion through communication.

Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. It gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about (“How’s your family?”). Think of labeling as a shortcut to intimacy, a time-saving emotional hack.

Chris Voss

Voss says: Labels almost always begin with roughly the same words: It seems like . . . It sounds like . . . It looks like . . . Notice we said “It sounds like . . .” and not “I’m hearing that . . .” That’s because the word “I” gets people’s guard up. When you say “I,” it says you’re more interested in yourself than the other person, and it makes you take personal responsibility for the words that follow—and the offense they might cause.

Don’t be afraid of misinterpreting the emotion either, even if its not the correct emotion that the other person is feeling, the action of the person saying ‘no that’s not right’, gives them the feeling of being in control, and allows them to keep talking as they delve deeper into what they’re feeling.


So how can we use this with our players?

Heres a conversation I had with one of my players recently:

Player: I don’t feel like myself on the football pitch at the moment

Me: Not yourself? (Mirroring)

Player: Yeah, usually I feel energetic and free of thoughts

Me: It sounds like you’re anxious (Labelling)

Player: Yeah I think so, I feel like I’m constantly overthinking.

Me: Overthinking? (Mirroring)

Player: Yeah, on the pitch its like I have a voice in my head telling me that I’m tired, and reminding me of the mistakes I’m making

Through mirroring & labelling, the player not only felt like he was being listened to & understood, but he also expanded on his thoughts allowing us to come up with a more effective plan of action together.

Feedback & Questioning

In this book Chris Voss speaks a lot about calibrated questions

Calibrated questions avoid verbs or words like “can,” “is,” “are,” “do,” or “does.” These are closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no.” Instead, they start with a list of words people know as reporter’s questions: “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.” Those words inspire your counterpart to think and then speak expansively

Chris Voss

Chris Voss: It’s best to start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” Nothing else. “Who,” “when,” and “where” will often just get your counterpart to share a fact without thinking. And “why” can backfire. Regardless of what language the word “why” is translated into, it’s accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage.


I’ve found using calibrated questions particularly advantageous with on field feedback and in video analyses sessions.

Over the years I have without a doubt been guilty of using ‘why’ questions. Innocently I would ask a player ‘why did you decide to make that pass?’, but as Chris Voss says:

“Don’t ask questions that start with ‘Why’ unless you want your counterpart to defend a goal that serves you. ‘Why’ is always an accusation, in any language.”

For that reason we adapted our coaching interventions to include ‘what’ & ‘how’ questions.

Instead of ‘why did you decide to make that pass?’ we now use ‘what caused you to make that pass?’, and then with any corrections made we end with ‘how does that look to you?’.

This way the players don’t see the question as an acquisition but they see it coming from a point of curiosity and learning.

The Power of your voice

According to Chris Voss your most powerful tool in any verbal communication is your voice. There are essentially three voice tones available: the late-night FM DJ voice, the positive/playful voice, and the direct or assertive voice.

You can use your voice to intentionally reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch. Distrusting to trusting. Nervous to calm. In an instant, the switch will flip just like that with the right delivery.

Chris Voss


Use selectively to make a point. Inflect your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow. When done properly, you create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness.


Most of the time, you should be using the positive/playful voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking. A smile, even while talking on the phone, has an impact tonally that the other person will pick up on.


Used rarely. Will cause problems and create pushback. Except in very rare circumstances, using it is like slapping yourself in the face while you’re trying to make progress. You’re signaling dominance onto your counterpart, who will either aggressively, or passive-aggressively, push back against attempts to be controlled.


The positive/playful voice should be the default when speaking to your players, especially in a one on one situation.

The late-night FM DJ voice works well when reinforcing your non-negotiables, a sense of ‘thats not how we do it here’ in a calm and slow manner really fires the sense of purpose without offending the recipient.

For the most part the direct or assertive voice should be avoided especially when trying to persuade someone. It might work as a one off, but it tends to lose its intended focus very quickly if it occurs consistently and it will likely be received with pushback.

Never Split the Difference is available on Amazon here:

Author: coachphilp

Masters Degree in Fútbol with Real Madrid Universidad Europea (Voted #1 Football Masters Degree in the World) 16 years coaching over 3 nations. “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have laboured hard for.” - Socrates

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