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Reader’s Review, December 2013 – January 2014

By John D. Baker

The Practical Negotiator

By Steven P. Cohen
224pp. Pompton, N.J.: Career Press, 2013
Paperback (USA) $15.99

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Steven Cohen has authored some ten articles for The Negotiator Magazine over the last years so he is a negotiation expert readers of this periodical may know well. A listing of his contributions to this magazine along with copies of each of his essays is a part of this magazine’s valued resource trove. I am delighted, therefore, to be able to review Steven Cohen’s new book on negotiation skills.

Mr. Cohen is a graduate of Columbia University Law School, Brandeis University, and Henley Management College. He is the President of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. which has offered negotiation skills training to thousands of persons in the U.S. and throughout the world. Additionally, Steve Cohen has been a consultant to hundreds of companies and government agencies in more than 20 countries.

For more than a decade, Mr. Cohen has been a visiting business professor at Groupe HEC in Paris, Brandeis University’s International Business School and business schools in many other nations. He is also the author of Negotiating Skills for Managers which I had the privilege of reviewing in this magazine some years ago.

The Practical Negotiator is essentially a casebook approach to negotiating skills education. The book is the product of a collection of letters Mr. Cohen has received from persons throughout the world asking questions about negotiating. To those letters, the author has appended his responses to the questions, arranged them into topically-based chapters, and created a primer on negotiation and its methods. It is an interesting and unusual approach to the subject which will appeal to some readers and disappoint others seeking a more traditional skills text.

Professor Cohen’s fundamental premise is that “we are all negotiators” (p. 13). The proof of this assertion is the book itself, filled with questions on negotiating a myriad of topics from men and women of all ages living in such places as Mumbai, India, Kokomo, Indiana (USA), Lagos, Nigeria, and seemingly everywhere between and beyond.

If everyone negotiates as the author asserts, then the next steps are clear. Everyone needs to learn effective negotiating skills. Mr. Cohen offers this book as the vehicle for that achievement.

Mr. Cohen begins his book by using its correspondence to focus on and illustrate some of the most fundamental principles of effective negotiation. Among those guiding fundamentals are the author’s view of the personal principles required by each negotiator; the case for a cooperative approach rather than a competitive posture in negotiation; and a listing of the qualities that make a good negotiator and a good negotiation. Steve Cohen, in his first chapters and throughout his book, builds a well-reasoned, carefully constructed and solid foundation for any person seeking to learn and succeed negotiating skills.

Having defined his view of negotiation, Cohen moves on to explore the essential strategies and tactics that are essential to effectively negotiate the host of matters that confront individuals every day. Essentially, Cohen focuses the letters-answers formula on the how-tos and whys that make-up a negotiator’s skills toolkit. Once again, particular situations become springboards for the exploration of broader concepts. Let us examine some of the areas you will find in this skills section which forms the vast majority of the book.

One of the negotiator’s essential skills is an awareness of the meaning of the term BATNA, the acronym for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, together with the knowledge of how to use it. Using his case method, Mr. Cohen introduces the concept to his reader by definition and by illustration more than 20 times in the course of his work. Unquestionably, repetition and multiple usage provide the examples that should ensure that every reader of this book should remember and know how to use in future negotiations.

Using his case approach, Mr. Cohen proceeds to use the real situations and his responses to bring to the fore a host of negotiating skills. The reader encounters and learns how to apply such skills as putting themselves into their opponent’s shoes; using open-ended questions; determining and using interests in negotiation; and even dealing with nasty negotiators and their dirty tricks. The list is both a comprehensive tutorial and a useful one.

This is a first-rate skills manual and a thoughtful introduction to the basic concepts of negotiation.

The book includes an Index.

Highly Recommended.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine  December 2013 – January 2014 Copyright © 2013 The Negotiator Magazine