Contract Negotiation Skills for Lawyers: Lessons from “Never Split the Difference”

Contract Negotiation Skills for Lawyers: Lessons from “Never Split the Difference”

Negotiation is a critical skill for lawyers, especially when it comes to contract negotiations. Whether you’re working on a major corporate merger or a simple client agreement, your ability to negotiate effectively can make or break the deal. One book that has gained significant attention in the field of negotiation is “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. While Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, his insights are highly applicable to the legal profession as well. In this blog, we’ll explore some key lessons from “Never Split the Difference” and how lawyers can apply them to improve their contract negotiation skills.

1) The Power of Active Listening

One of the fundamental principles in “Never Split the Difference” is the power of active listening. In negotiations, it’s common for both parties to be so focused on their own arguments and positions that they forget to truly listen to the other side. Voss emphasizes the importance of asking open-ended questions and using tactical empathy to understand the other party’s perspective.

For lawyers, this means taking the time to listen actively to your client’s needs and concerns. It also involves carefully listening to the opposing party to identify their underlying interests and motivations. By doing so, you can uncover valuable information that can be used to your advantage during contract negotiations.

2)The Use of Mirroring

Mirroring is a technique in which you repeat the last few words that someone has said. It’s a simple yet powerful way to establish rapport and encourage the other party to open up. In “Never Split the Difference,” Voss demonstrates how mirroring can be used effectively in hostage negotiations.

Lawyers can also benefit from mirroring in contract negotiations. By mirroring the language and concerns of the other party, you can create a sense of connection and understanding. This can help build trust and create a more productive negotiation environment.

3) Tactical Empathy

Tactical empathy is another concept emphasized in Voss’s book. It involves understanding and validating the emotions and perspectives of the other party, even if you don’t agree with them. By showing empathy, you can build rapport and reduce resistance.

In contract negotiations, lawyers can use tactical empathy to address the emotional aspects of the deal. Recognize the concerns and fears of the opposing party and demonstrate that you understand their point of view. This can lead to more collaborative and successful negotiations.

4) “No” as a Starting Point

Voss argues that “no” is often a starting point in negotiations, not the end. When someone says “no,” they may be signaling a need for more information, reassurance, or a different approach. Instead of viewing “no” as a rejection, lawyers can use it as an opportunity to dig deeper and explore the underlying issues and objections.

In contract negotiations, if the other party rejects a proposal, don’t be discouraged. Instead, use it as a chance to understand their concerns better and work towards a mutually beneficial solution.

5) The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a critical skill in negotiation. It involves recognizing and managing your own emotions as well as understanding and influencing the emotions of others. Voss emphasizes the need for emotional intelligence throughout his book.

Lawyers can benefit greatly from developing their emotional intelligence. By staying calm under pressure, managing their own emotions, and empathetically addressing the emotions of others, they can navigate contract negotiations more effectively.


“Never Split the Difference” offers valuable insights into the art of negotiation, which is a core skill for lawyers, especially in contract negotiations. By applying the principles of active listening, mirroring, tactical empathy, starting with “no,” and developing emotional intelligence, lawyers can enhance their negotiation skills and achieve better outcomes for their clients. So, next time you find yourself in a contract negotiation, remember the lessons from Chris Voss’s book to help you secure the best possible deal.

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