Negotiator’s Library: Bargaining with the Devil by Robert Mnookin

 

Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vietnam. What is this list? These are the ten countries completely free from conflict, according to the recently released Global Peace Index 2016.

The study highlights the reasons we are today further from world peace than at any time in the past ten years. And in a world where ‘peace inequality’ is growing, it’s timely to revisit Robert Mnookin’s advice on when to bargain with those who we feel would do violence to us.

Whether conflict is in the boardroom or on the battlefield, it calls for a judgement on whether or not it makes sense to negotiate. Should we always be willing to parley, or should we juggle this option with, literally or figuratively, going to war? Mnookin’s four key tips are applicable to the global challenges to peace now, as well as to our own dilemmas.

“Should you bargain with a “devil? Not always, but more often than you feel like it.” Robert Mnookin

The choice between war and negotiation faces most of us every day in the boardroom, in commercial disputes, in clashes between business partners and in family disputes. The devil is the person who threatens to commit violence on ourselves, our interests, our dignity, and our values.

In his book, Mnookin states that there is no universal rule to the question of when to deal with the devil.
He is probably right.

Case studies

The book offers a brilliant analysis of eight very different conflicts. Some involve business partners, some others family relatives, some worlds leaders such as Churchill or Mandela.

What is remarkable in Mnookin’s  work is his ability to identify the common thread between these various situations and help each of us relate them to the moments when we were tempted to make a pact with the devil or… walk away.

From these eight conflicts, the author has distilled four key lessons that everyone can use in a  challenging situation:

  1. Systematically compare the expected costs and benefits of war versus negotiation.
  2. Get advice from others in evaluating the alternatives;  don’t do the analysis alone .
  3. Have a presumption in favour of negotiation, but make it rebuttable.
  4. When deciding on behalf of others, don’t allow your own moral intuitions to override a pragmatic assessment .

Mnookin says,  “Even if you decide to make a deal with the Devil, you have to be sure it can be implemented”.

We highly recommend you add this book to your Negotiator’s library. Without doubt, it’s only a matter of time until your largest client or your biggest investor or someone else is going to try to force you to say YES. And that agreement could harm your business,  personal reputation, or your self-worth.

In that moment, three things may be of immediate help.

Reach for Robert Mnookin’s  four key lessons to help you assess the circumstances, and your Negotiation Coach on speed dial. Remember,  if saying “yes” to devil means saying “no” to yourself or your business, it is a deal you need to walk away from.

Your integrity and your personal boundaries are the two things which should never be negotiable.  Robert Mnookin would no doubt agree on that.

The book website has videos, media interviews and extracts from the book which you can buy here and there’s more on the peace index here.

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