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Published: November 30, 2006

 
 

Best Business Books: Negotiation

Art, Science, and Wisdom, or the Logic of Leverage

G. Richard Shell,
Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People
(Penguin, 2nd edition, 2006)

Jim Thomas,
Negotiate to Win: The 21 Rules for Successful Negotiating
(Collins, 2005)

Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro,
Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate
(Viking, 2005)


In 1689, the English House of Lords was debating what title to give Prince William of Orange, who had recently chased James II out of the country. Should he become king, regent, or prince consort? Prince William summoned a group of prominent lords to his apartments with this offer: Crown him king, or he and his army would go back to the Netherlands, James would return, and the lords’ heads would be in severe danger. Bingo! Within two days, the House of Lords decided that king was the right job title.

Such stories have a peculiar fascination. There seems to be a kind of innate logic at play, an awareness of the “golden moment,” when one side’s leverage is heightened. In more mundane terms, if you are negotiating a job, you are well positioned to negotiate the terms (including the job title) after the offer has been made (in William’s case, after James had fled), but before you accept it (before a new constitutional settlement had been worked out). If only we could master that logic, we would maximize our chances of coming out on top in all the negotiations we undertake — in business, politics, private life. Hence the stream of negotiation books, which package that logic in different styles — reflective, analytical, or wisecracking.

Among these books, few have rivaled Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Houghton Mifflin), the 1981 book written by Roger Fisher and William Ury. The original edition of Getting to Yes was developed at Harvard University’s Negotiation Project, which introduced an approach that focuses on mutual interests and fairness, not on maintaining positions and winning the contest of will. That approach has been credited with helping political leaders resolve difficult conflicts around the world. (In the spirit of disclosure, I should add that in 1975 I designed and helped Roger Fisher teach the Harvard course that preceded the book.)

In the last year, however, a trio of books have been published that are worthy of attention even alongside Getting to Yes. One displays the word reasonable on its cover, one has win, and the third features emotion. Readers may take their pick.

To distinguish these books, it is helpful to recognize that every negotiation involves three fundamental elements: art, science, and wisdom. Artistry is always involved, because negotiations can never be fully planned; the circumstances vary too much. At the heart of even the most mutually beneficial negotiation, there is always a haggle between two conflicting positions. A creative solution can clear a stalemate and produce agreement, but not by eliminating or resolving the conflict; rather, by suggesting new, acceptable concessions that make the conflict less intense. Making this happen is the art of negotiation.

The second element is science. Why would one person ever concede anything to another? Because the first person judges that without that concession, the second person will walk away from the deal. The leverage held by each of them can be determined analytically: It can be expressed as the difference between the expected cost of the concessions and the cost of a failure to reach agreement. The science of negotiation is the process of maximizing leverage — what strategists call advantage — by analyzing this difference in cost (which is subject to change at any moment).

The third fundamental element is wisdom. Every negotiation entails some wisdom. Otherwise, we would just have open conflict. Wisdom is the ability to observe the negotiation as it evolves, so that one can seize the opportune moment just as Prince William did. Wisdom also involves the ability to anticipate the negotiation’s most likely results after the deal is struck. A skilled and ruthless negotiator may win every last demand, but never again be invited to the table. A cultivated sense of timing helps any negotiator reach his or her most important goals: to win the most critical concessions, or possibly to negotiate a change in the rules that will provide winnings forever without any more negotiations being necessary.

 
 
 
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