Split the difference

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Split the difference is a phrase that may have been around for longer than you think. We will examine the meaning of the phrase split the difference, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To split the difference, in its literal sense, means to agree on a price that is midway between the amount being asked for an item, and the amount being offered for that item. To split the difference is a common way to resolve a negotiation effectively, to end a period of bargaining or haggling over a price or fee. This method of resolving a negotiation over the price of an item often occurs in flea markets, yard sales, bazaars and marketplaces. To split the difference is considered a compromise, in which each party is willing to concede a small amount of ground in order to come to an agreement. The term split the difference is also used in a looser sense to mean to strike a bargain in order to resolve a dispute, to look at a proposal that is on the table and consider both sides in order to come to an understanding that is mutually beneficial. People often split the difference in a business negotiation, conflict resolution with a colleague in the workplace, or some other type of mediation. The negotiation process is usually one of persuasion, concession, willingness to communicate over common ground, and to understand the perspective of each participant and what are acceptable strategies for solving an issue.  Listening to the other’s ideas, and mutual respect between the participants, are the keys to dealing with conflict. In a true compromise, neither side receives everything that they asked for, but each side receives enough of what they asked for to be satisfied. No one feels as if they have been taken advantage of. The phrase split the difference has been in use since the early 1700s, referring to a midway price arrived at during a negotiation. Related phrases are splits the difference, splitting the difference.


“I saw his name pop up in my caller ID and I’m like, ‘Oh great — he’s going to get into me about this tweet that I put out there, jokingly trying to say, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys split the difference and come play in Des Moines at our stadium?’” Hardin said. (The Des Moines Register)

Talks culminated after 11 months with the 2015 agreement that essentially split the difference on building height at 69 ft, a level that matches the tree canopy on the site. (Engineering News-Record)

The authors—one known for happy endings, the other for breaking hearts—split the difference believably, and it’s impossible not to root for Arthur and Ben and their many do-overs. (Publishers Weekly)

But Bravo’s Dirty John, premiering on Nov. 25, leans into the salaciousness, splitting the difference between soap opera and crime re-enactments in the hysterical style of America’s Most Wanted. (TIME Magazine)

Volkswagen is producing its finest gasoline-powered vehicles ever, and the new Tiguan CUV rates among best of breed, splitting the difference in size, power and capability between two market segments defined by smart market-driven engineering from the Japanese and Koreans. (Forbes Magazine)