Bargaining with the Devil

When to Negotiate, When to Fight

by Robert Harris Mnookin

Number of pages: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

BBB Library: Communication

ISBN: 978-1416583332

About the Author

Robert Harris Mnookin is the Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, the Chair of the Program of Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and the Director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project since 1994. Mnookin is a leading scholar in the field of conflict resolution and has applied his expertise at negotiation and conflict resolution to a remarkable range of problems, inlcluding the famous 7-year dispute between IBM and Fujitsu in the 1980s.


Editorial Review

If someone does you wrong in business or in life, should you bargain with them or ignore them and go straight to warfare or litigation? This is actually a highly strategic question and one of the most challenging issues in any negotiation. If you attempt to make a deal with the other party, you are in effect legitimizing their authority and position. For example, if a government negotiates with terrorists, then it is effectively stating the terrorists have a point and are worth speaking to in order to come to some sort of mutual arrangement. In a way, this can be viewed as a form of rewarding bad behavior. So, should you try to resolve any and all conflicts through negotiation rather than fighting it out? The answer depends on all kinds of different factors but you should have a bias towards negotiating wherever and whenever possible. You’ll increase the odds of achieving more if you do.    

Book Reviews

“Back in the day there was a book calledGetting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving Inand the premise of that book was that negotiation is always the best option. But what if the other party is evil? That is the question that Robert Mnookin poses in his incomparable exposition of crisis decision-makingBargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight.Mnookin is a colleague of Roger Fisher, (he is Fisher's successor as chair of Harvard's Program on Negotiation), one of the authors ofGetting to Yes,and his book certainly will be of interest to anyone who has studied Fisher's book. But the application of Mnookin's framework is much broader and will be of interest to those who want to improve their decision-making skills.”—Blog Critics

“First, I recommend you read this book for enjoyment. So skillfully does the author craft his case histories from the bedrock of research that the book is that rare thing among works of scholarship: a page-turner. Second, I recommend you read the book with a pen and paper by your side: there are profound questions here that will give you pause, prompt links to other literatures, and reinforce or challenge your habitual ways of thinking.”—Harvard Negotiation Law Review

“Along with cogent analysis, Mnookin suggests four general guidelines for determining the best course of action: systematically compare the cost-benefit ratios of negotiating or fighting, collect advice from others, tip the scales in favor of negotiation before fully committing, and don't allow moral intuition to override pragmatic assessment. While Mnookin admits his suggestions are "hardly the last word," they will help decision-makers focus their thoughts in challenging situations.”—Publishers Weekly

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Wisdom to Share

When resolving a conflict, you have to avoid all the emotional traps which can lead to an unwise knee-jerk reaction.

When making intuitive judgment calls, there are a number of traps or distortions which can lead you to refuse to negotiate when you probably should. Some of these traps are negative traps (promoting refusal) and others are positive (promoting negotiation).If you can recognize when your thinking is clouded by these traps and acknowledge them, you can work to try and offset their influence.

If you bargain with the devil, develop alternatives. You will need them if the deal doesn’t work out. If you bargain with the devil, you’d better win big. Otherwise, you may be harshly judged by history—and by your own people. You may even be demonized. If you lie to the devil, don’t get seduced by your own lies.

If you’re a leader, you have an obligation to engage in rational analysis. You don’t have the right to act solely on your gut feelings or personal moral beliefs. You have to think things through, to consider the costs and benefits of your alternatives.

You have to address all the moral and ethical issues involved in deciding whether to negotiate with an enemy.

One key factor in deciding whether or not to negotiate will be the range of options which are available to you away from the negotiating table. You need to figure out what actions you could take if the negotiations go nowhere in order to know how hard you should push.

Whenever you negotiate with another party, you have to decide how trustworthy they are. Will they honor any agreement which is reached? Will they look at an agreement as binding or will they view it as optional?

In many disputes, two reasonable people could analyze the same situation and reach different conclusions, based on different predictions and different assessments of the costs and benefits.

Whether or not you choose to bargain with the devil always involves some form of dynamic tension between a desire to move forward and the necessity to give the other party something they don’t in fact deserve. It’s the conflict between principle and pragmatism.

Be systematic in evaluating the expected costs and benefits of negotiation.

When you get input from other people, you weed out all the mental traps your own thinking has fallen prey to. It’s entirely reasonable that different people will also come up with noticeably different cost-benefit conclusions. They will attach different values to the tradeoffs involved. Working your way through these differences will be useful in and of itself because this will demand that you think clearly.

There’s often an inescapable tension between achieving justice for past wrongs and the need for resolution. This is a bitter pill to swallow.