Negotiation Cheat Sheet


Every conversation is a negotiation. I highly recommend reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, the best negotiation book ever written.
I made a cheat sheet (below), that you can carry into your negotiations.
You can also download it as a PDF.

Cheat Sheet


People want to be understood and accepted. 2 primal urges:

  • Need to feel safe & secure
  • Need to feel in control

Listen intensely → demonstrate empathy + show a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing


  • Goal: reveal surprises in the negotiation
  • Hypotheses vs. assumptions: Use negotiation to test hypotheses
  • Uncover as much information as possible (not battle of arguments)
  • Uncover what counterpart actually needs (money, emotional, otherwise) → get them feeling safe to talk more
  • Sole focus: the other person and what they have to say



Slow. It. Down

Three voices:

  1. Late-night DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect voice downward. Calm and slow. Creates aura of trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness
  2. Positive & playful: Default voice. Voice of easygoing & good natured person. Relax & smile while talking
  3. Direct / Assertive: Used rarely


  • Repeat the last (or critical) 3 words of what someone else has said
  • Insinuates similarity which facilitates bonding
  • Connectors because they help your counterpart connect thoughts

Mirror Process

  1. Use Late Night FM DJ Voice
  2. Start sentences with I’m sorry…
  3. Mirror
  4. Silence, at least 4 seconds to let mirror work it’s magic
  5. Repeat

Tactical Empathy

  • Imagine myself in the counterpart’s situation
  • Recognize their perspective and vocalize that recognition
  • Understand counterpart’s feelings & hear what is behind those feelings
  • Bring my attention to the emotional obstacles to getting an agreement done
  • Look at words, tone, and body language. Spot changes and look for incongruences


Validate someone’s emotion by acknowledging it

  • It seems like...
  • It sounds like...
  • It looks like...

Pause to let the label sink in. Other party will fill in the silence

Every 4th verbalization should be a label

Neutralize the Negative

  • Focus first on clearing the barriers to an agreement
  • Label fears to diffuse their power
  • Look, I’m an asshole


  1. Observe without reaction & judgement
  2. Label each negative feeling
  3. Replace with a positive, compassionate & solution-based thought

Accusation Audit

  • List the worst things my counterpart can say about me first
  • Use labels to reinforce & encourage positive perceptions
  • Remove I understand from your vocabulary. Never use it

Start with No

Need to feel in control → get by saying No

Saying Yes makes people defensive

If I hear No →

  • What about this doesn’t work for you?
  • What would you need to make this work?
  • It seems there’s something here that bothers you?

3 types of Yes:

  1. Counterfeit: Yes as an escape route (want to say No)
  2. Confirmation: Reflexive response question. Affirmation with no promise of action
  3. Commitment: True agreement that leads to action

Trigger a No: Is now a bad time to talk?

Might sometimes need to force counterpart into a no:

  • Intentionally mislabel an emotion
  • Ask a ridiculous question that can only be answered by a No

Email Magic

Subject Line: Have you given up on this project?

That's Right

  • Good: That’s Right
  • Bad: Yes, You’re Right

Summary to trigger That's Right

Trigger That’s Right with a Summary:

  1. Effective Pauses encourage the counterparty to keep talking
  2. Minimal Encouragers: Yes, OK, Uh-Huh, I see → show I’m paying full attention
  3. Mirroring: Listen & repeat back
  4. Labeling: Give feelings a name & identify with how they feel
  5. Paraphrase: Repeat in my own words to show I’m really understanding
  6. Summarize: Re-articulate meaning of what is said + acknowledgment of the emotions = Paraphrase + Labeling

Never Split the Difference

Leads to a bad outcome for both sides, eg 1 black + 1 brown shoe


  • Deadlines make people do impulsive things
  • Resist the urge to rush as a deadline approaches
  • Take advantage of the rush in others
  • Share my deadlines: information asymmetry is the worse for me

Three uses of Fair

Defensive move: We just want what’s fair

  • Emotionally rattled negotiators will raise their counteroffer
  • Correct response: OK, I apologize. Let’s stop everything and go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it

Nefarious accusation: We’ve given you a fair offer

  • Jab meant to distract my attention
  • Correct response: Fair? It seems like you’re ready to provide the evidence that supports that.

Positive: I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair and we’ll address it

Extreme Anchor

Bend counterpart’s reality by anchoring the starting point

  1. Before making offer, emotionally anchor by saying how bad it will be
  2. Set an extreme anchor to make my real number seem reasonable
  3. Use a range to seem less aggressive

Loss Aversion

  • People will take more risks to avoid a loss than realize a gain
  • Make sure my opponent sees there is something to lose by inaction

Bend their Reality

  1. Anchor their emotions: Start with an accusation audit acknowledging all their fears. Anchor them in preparation for a loss
  2. Let the other party suggest a price first. Especially if neither party knows true market value. Consider alternatives if other party is a shark or  a rookie
  3. Establish a bolstering range: Recall a similar deal. Range high so people will naturally want to satisfy the low end of my range
  4. Pivot to non-monetary terms: Give things that are not important. Get things that are. Suggest ideas to stimulate brainstorming
  5. Use odd numbers: Don’t use round numbers
  6. Surprise with a gift: Generate reciprocity by giving unrelated surprise gifts

Calibrated Questions

  • The listener has control of the conversation
  • Goal is to suspend unbelief → calibrated questions to ask for help
  • Don’t use: Can, Is, Are, Do, Does
  • Avoid: questions that can be answered with Yes or tiny pieces of information
  • Start every question with what, how (& sometimes but rarely why)
  • Only use why when defensiveness it creates is in my favor: Why would you ever change from the way you’ve always done things and try my approach?
  • You can’t leave → What do you hope to achieve by going?
  • Avoid angry emotional reactions

Phrases to use

  • What makes you ask?
  • What about ____ 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 the problem?
  • What’s the objective / What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • How am I supposed to do that?


  • Yes is nothing without How
  • Calibrated how? Questions help guarantee execution
  • Look for That’s Right
  • Don’t settle for I’ll try, You’re Right → Those mean I plan to fail

Phrases to use

  • How am I supposed to do that?
  • How will we know we’re on track?
  • How will we address things if we find we’re off track?

Influence those behind the table

  • How does this affect the rest of your team?
  • How on board are the people not on this call?
  • What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?


7% content < 38% tone of voice < 55% body language & face

  • Fly great distances to meet people in person
  • Pay close attention to tone & body language. See if they don’t match up with literal meaning of words
  • Use labels to discover source of the incongruence:
  • I heard you say ‘Yes’ but it seemed like there was a hesitation in your voice
  • No, this is important. Let’s make sure we get this right

Rule of Three

Get them to say yes 3 times

  1. Get them to give me a commitment
  2. Label + summarize → get a That’s Right
  3. Calibrated How or What questions about implementation. Ask what will constitute success: What do we do if we get off track?

Spotting Liars


  • Use more words than truth tellers
  • Talk about him, her, it, one, they and their. Rarely I → distance from the lie
  • Speak in more complex sentences (to cover up the lie)

Spot Decision Makers

Watch pronouns

  • I, me, my → less important in the decision of the outcome
  • We, they, them → actual decision maker leaving options open

Use my own name

  • My name is Yanda
  • What’s the Yanda discount?

Saying No 4 Times

  1. How am I supposed to do that?
  2. Your offer is very generous. I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me
  3. I’m sorry but I’m afraid I just can’t do that
  4. I’m sorry, no

Use mirroring and open-ended questions in between. Empathize 3x:

  • That’s very generous of you
  • That price is more than fair
  • Thank you for taking the time to talk to me

Types of Negotiators

Analyst: Acquiring facts & info > making a deal

  • Time = Preparation
  • Silence = Opportunity to think
  • Methodical & diligent. Hates surprises.
  • Self-imaged tied to minimizing mistakes
  • Prefers to work on their own
  • Reserved problem solver
  • Information aggregator
  • Skeptical by nature
  • May appear to agree when just agreeing to think about it
  • Doesn’t like calibrated questions
  • Apologies have little value
  • Hypersensitive to reciprocity
  • Get gift first = it must be a trap
  • Give first = you must reciprocate
  • Tools: labels, specifically to compare analysis,
  • Use data to drive my reason, no ad-lib
  • Use data comparisons to disagree
  • Worst-type match: Assertive

Accommodator: Building relationship > making a deal

  • Time = Relationship
  • Silence = Anger
  • Communicating → happy
  • Sociable, peace-seeking, optimistic, distractible, poor time managers
  • Watch tone & body language → hesitancy won’t come in words
  • Risk: may overpromise, agree to give you something they can’t actually deliver
  • Tools: What & How calibrated questions focused on implementation
  • Worst-type match: Accommodator

Assertive: Being heard > making a deal

  • Time = Money
  • Silence = Opportunity to speak more
  • Getting solution perfect is less important than getting it done
  • Loves winning above all else
  • Most likely to get tunnel-vision. Focus on goal → miss opportunities to explore Emotions = bad
  • Negotiation = intellectual sparring
  • Focus first on what they have to say. Once they are convinced I understand them, only then will they listen
  • Tools: calibrated questions, labels, and summaries. Get a that’s right
  • Be careful with reciprocity (give an inch → take a mile)
  • Wost-type match: Analyst

Deflect the Punch

Counterparty will start with an extreme anchor. Get ready to deflect the punch

  • By saying “no” :  How am I supposed to do that?
  • By deflecting the anchor: What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • Pivot to terms: detour to non-monetary issues:
  • Let’s put price off to the side for a moment & talk about what would make this a good deal?
  • What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?
  • Respond with your own extreme anchor

Strategic Umbrage

I don’t see how that would ever work

I statements

I feel _____ when you _____ because ____ .

Ackerman Bargaining

1. Set target price

2. Plan your offers

  • Buyer: 65% → 85% → 95% → 100%
  • Seller: 135% → 115% → 105% → 100%.

3. At final offer add non-monetary item to show that I’m at my limit

Use an Accusations Audit to pre-empt the first offer to take the edge off

  • You’re going to think I haven’t done my homework
  • You’re going to feel insulted by my offer
  • I’m embarrassed to tell you my offer

Use lots of empathy and ways of saying No in between to get other to counter before I increase my offer

Use precise, non-round, odd numbers

Black Swans

  • 3 Black Swans in every negotiation
  • Every negotiation is new → don’t let old patterns blind me
  • Always ask myself: Why are they communicating what they are communicating right now

3 Types of Leverage

Positive Leverage: I have something they want

Negative Leverage: My ability to make my counterpart suffer

  • More powerful because of loss aversion
  • To use, first find what is important to them:
  • Who is their audience?
  • What signifies status and reputation to them?
  • What most worries them?
  • Identify with labels: It seems you strongly value the fact that you’ve always been paid on time

Normative Leverage: Using the other party’s norms to advance my position

  • Show inconsistencies between their beliefs and their actions
  • No one likes to look like a hypocrite
  • To discover norms: Ask what my counterpart believes in and listen openly
  • See what language they speak and speak it back to them

Listen, listen, listen

  • Review everything I hear. Double check
  • Use backup listeners whose only job is to listen between the lines
  • Compare notes with team members to discover new information

Similarity Principle

  • People trust those who are in their in group
  • Look at and mirror attitudes, beliefs, ideas, and even modes of dress

Power of hopes & dreams

  • Visualize what counterpart wants out of life → use those aspirations to get them to follow
  • Everyone wants to believe that we are capable of the extraordinary
  • Display a passion for what my counterpart has always wanted and convey a purposeful plan on how to get there → changes my counterpart’s perception of what is possible to change
  • We are all hungry for a map to joy → be courageous enough to draw it and others will follow

… because ...

People respond favorably to requests made in a reasonable tone of voice and followed by a because reason (even if the reason isn’t great)

Not crazy

People acting crazy are often not. Instead, counterpart:

  • is Ill Informed: has incomplete or different information to me
  • is Constrained: may not have power to close the deal
  • has Other Interests: hidden interests that justify his behavior

Get Face Time

Get face time

Observe unguarded moments

  • First few minutes before you get down to business
  • Last few moments as everyone is leaving
  • Interruptions, odd exchanges, etc…

When something doesn’t make sense, there’s an opportunity. Dig in!

Negotiation One-Sheet

The Goal: specific scenario that represents best case

  • Set optimistic but reasonable goal & define it clearly
  • Write it down
  • Discuss my goal with a colleague (commitment & consistency)
  • Carry the written goal into the negotiation

Summary: Couple of sentences about the known facts that have led up to the negotiation. Aim for That’s Right in response

Labels / Accusation Audit: 3-5 labels to perform an accusation audit

  • It seems like ____ is valuable to you
  • It seems like you don’t like ____.
  • It seems like you value ____.
  • It seems like ____ makes it easier.
  • It seems like you’re reluctant to ____.

Calibrated questions: 3-5 to reveal value & overcome potential deal killers

For my counterpart:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How is that worthwhile?
  • What’s the core issue here?
  • How does that affect things?
  • How does this fit into what the objective is?

To identify behind-the-table deal killers

  • How does this affect the rest of your team?
  • How on board are the people not on this call?
  • What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?

To identify and diffuse deal-killing issues

  • What are we up against here?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • How does making a deal with us affect things?
  • What happens if you do nothing?
  • What does doing nothing cost you?
  • How does making this deal resonate with what your company prides itself on?

Follow up with labels to their answers to the calibrated questions:

  • It seems ____ is important.
  • It seems you feel like my company is in a unique position to ____.
  • It seems you are worried that ____.

Non-cash offers: list of non-cash items possessed by my counterpart that would be valuable?

  • What could they give me that would make me do this for free?