The Negotiator Magazine
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Reader’s Review
John Baker
382pp. New York: Warner Books, 2003
Hardcover Edition: (US) $24.95

Herb Cohen is a negotiator’s negotiator, a person you would want to have on your side in the toughest of bargaining situations. Hailed as "The World’s Best Negotiator" in an article in Playboy Magazine in 1979 and author of the 1980 New York Times best seller entitled You Can Negotiate Anything, Cohen is a veteran of thousands of negotiations. He been a consultant to U.S. Presidents and foreign heads of state in hostage negotiations and negotiated agreements for major global corporations, professional sports and conducted salary negotiations for individuals. Suffice it to say, he is a master practitioner of the art of negotiations.

His new book is an extraordinary look at the field of negotiations that have engaged him for so many years. It is also pure Cohen, deceptively casual, seemingly introducing stories of negotiating that at first seem to be only tangentially related to his broader purpose and gradually drawing the reader in to discover the key message as if it were their own insight. It has been there all along, of course, right before our eyes in the subtitle.

Mr. Cohen, with patience and skill, leads the reader into an intellectual negotiation between author and reader that should prove fascinating for the student of negotiations. The author cares, "but not that much" if we learn his style. He also knows, citing the principle of acceptance as critical to any negotiation, that to succeed in his goal he must overcome that "… innate tendency about new ideas, which threaten comfortable habits and ways of thinking"(p. 262).

Readers who take this book’s amiable and seemingly rambling path are likely to have discovered that they have also participated in an example of Mr. Cohen’s long-held goal of making negotiations a "win-win" outcome for both parties. This reviewer believes Cohen has achieved a masterful performance.

For Cohen, "style … supersedes substance in decision-making"(p.69). The negotiator’s "… approach and manner …," Cohen states, "… counts for more than what you’re talking about or the content of the discussion." The beneficial attributes of a successful style in Cohen’s view are: "active listening, warmth and sensitivity, patience, sharing of feelings and consideration for others’ worth and self-esteem"(p.69).

Even with all these attributes, however, Herb Cohen centers on two additional critical factors for successful performance in negotiations. In essence, he sums up these qualities as he writes, "the worst person to negotiate for you – is you"(p.54). The question, of course, is why.

The answer, the author points out, is that success in negotiations requires a sense of perspective, some emotional distance (not caring that much) from the negotiation and the possession of seemingly limited authority. When you negotiate for yourself neither of these attributes apply. So it is with the chief executive of a nation state, a corporation or any other entity.

The best way to read this book is to sit back and enjoy the author’s sense of humor as he negotiates for his wide range of clients, engages in bargaining with his children and with his wife who proves a brilliant strategist on the home front. It is a book filled with brief, but valuable negotiating stories from his long career that any negotiator will find entertaining and instructive. Along the way, we encounter the operational tips that have made him a successful negotiator. Additionally, we find much to reflect upon in this author’s seemingly wide-ranging, but in fact, very focused dialogue on the subject of negotiations.

There is also much practical advice and many insights into operational tactics and strategies for the student of negotiations. Let us touch a few of these areas.

Many new negotiators will find his advice on how to start negotiations of particular value. "Basically," Cohen says, "start negotiating with congruence-the things you have in common"(132). Then, he advocates moving into active listening which in his view becomes a joint exercise involving the other team. This is the critical information-gathering phase. Apply "the Titanic principle," he urges. "One of the biggest mistakes that we make," Cohen insists, "is to believe that the initial demand of the contending party correlates with their true interests"(p.134).

"Dumb," he states, "is really better than smart and inarticulate is preferable to articulate"(p.41). "Try to divest yourself of preconceived notions, biases, and prejudices," he writes. Only then, he contends, can people be open to learn to work together and to solve problems.

You will find advice on concessions tied with the principle of reciprocity as one of the norms of human interaction as well as how to use them to best advantage. You will also Cohen attacking some of the myths that hang over the negotiation table. For example, the old saw that "the one who speaks first loses," in Cohen’s view is "Baloney, not true"(p.130). He then proceeds to show the reader how speaking first can break a stalemate.

There are brief recaps at the ends of chapters, a bibliography, and an index. The book also includes several appendices dealing with hostage negotiations and terrorist negotiations which readers will find of interest.

Readers will find this book invaluable in giving themselves a sense of negotiating style. Often, new negotiators are overwhelmed by bits and pieces of advice, but find the challenge in making these elements into a coherent and personal whole. This is a book that provides an illustration of how to build a style and operate successfully within its framework. It is a significant achievement.

Highly recommended.

John Baker, Ph.D.
Editor, The Negotiator Magazine

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