Negotiate This!: By Caring, But Not T-H-A-T Muchby Herb Cohen
In this long awaited book, bestselling author Cohen offers a new--and humorous--look at the art and practice of negotiation in the 21st century.
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By Herb Cohen
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
THE JOY OF DETACHED INVOLVEMENT
The one human freedom that cannot be taken from you is the capacity
to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances-to choose
one's own way.
A GAMING MECHANISM
Negotiation is the game of life. Whenever you attempt to reconcile
differences, manage conflict, resolve disputes, establish or adjust
relationships you are playing the negotiating game. Truly it is the
lifeblood of relationships. While people accept the importance of
this learned skill in diplomatic dealings and labor relations they
sometimes fail to see the opportunities that exist for them to gain
a better mastery in their everyday lives via negotiating know-how.
For all of us, life is a continuing process of trying to influence
others, whether it be your boss, a client or customer, a landlord, a
neighbor, a banker, a broker, a medical or legal professional, an
insurance or utility company, a salesperson, a car dealer, an HMO,
an IRS auditor, or even a family member. We seem forever absorbed in
trying to get others to agree with us. Whatever the case or cause,
whenever you communicate with an objective in mind, engaging in
social exchange to affect someone's demeanor or behavior, you are
playing the negotiating game. Inevitably, your attitude and actions
often have the potential to determine the distribution of available
resources, the satisfaction of those involved, and even the nature
of the relationship.
Please note that I refer to negotiating as a gaming mechanism or
game, because if you see it in that light you will perform much
better. Since a game is where you care-really care, but not t-h-a-t
Now why do I say that? Well, who is the worst person you negotiate
for? Of course, I believe the answer is: yourself. That's not only
true in your case; I know that's my own reality. Actually, to be
completely candid with you, in the past three decades I have earned
a lucrative living negotiating on behalf of others. Indeed, I try to
have as my clients very wealthy entrepreneurs or large corporations
with money to spend, who employ me to operate on their behalf in
deal making. The way I am compensated is that I get a meager or
modest percentage of an enormous deal. Would you believe that this
formula works out well for my family and myself ? So I must be
pretty good at doing that.
Yet, when I negotiate on behalf of myself it's not a game anymore,
it's my life, my legacy. So the result is often plainly pathetic.
Now why is this the case? Do you believe it is because I'm lacking
in self-esteem? Let me assure you that this is not so. Really, I
like me one heck of a lot. In fact if I could be more effective for
myself and less effective for you I would prefer it that way. But in
truth I am better for you. Why? 'Cause I don't even know you.
Naturally I care about you, but not t-h-a-t much. It's that attitude
that gives me perspective when working on your behalf. Indeed I
suspect you already know that the best way to make a good deal is to
convey to the other side that you are capable of living without the
deal-that you have other options or alternatives. So as the "great
negotiator" Kenny Rogers once said in a song lyric, "You got to know
when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" and walk away.
Succinctly put, the operative approach for success and satisfaction
in all of life's interpersonal exchanges is to really care-but not
Let me further illustrate this concept. About twenty-five years ago
I was retained by a Chicago executive to help him finalize an
agreement with the French government. We flew out of John F. Kennedy
Airport heading for Paris. We sat next to each other in first class.
Apparently, for him this deal was a vital matter that would have a
substantial impact on the bottom line of his business. I learned
this on the way over, because he frequently turned to me and said,
"You know, this is a large financial transaction and I've got a
great deal at stake." He must have used the same language about five
times, so I eventually figured out that this was "a large financial
transaction with a great deal at stake." From all indications he was
under stress and he repeatedly asked, "What's our game plan?" In
response, I found myself saying things like, "Well, we'll get in
there and see how it goes." He kept shaking his head. "No," he
blurted out. "We need more structure-you know, detail, specificity,
meat-pith." At the time, never having heard the word "pith," I was
Unimpressed by my vague replies, he took the initiative. "Maybe we
should open up by blitzing the French officials. You know, take them
by surprise, red dog 'em. We could even send out a flanker, and when
they follow the flanker, we blindside them." It took me a while to
realize that this man was speaking to me in an arcane, esoteric
language. He was using American football terminology.
As you know, in any attempt to communicate with an objective in mind
or any purposive social exchange, you should begin by determining
the other party's frame of reference. As young people used to say,
"Where is this person coming from?" Clearly, my traveling
companion's paradigm was professional football.
"Okay, I got it," was my response. "In this culture, we don't want
to appear overly aggressive or offensive, so at the outset we'll go
with a flex defense." Surprisingly, he nodded like he understood
this. Encouraged, I went on: "We'll give up yardage but we won't let
them put any numbers up on the board." Presumably, this satisfied
him and the rest of the trip was uneventful.
The next day, we met with the French authorities and from all
indications my client's initial reservations appeared prescient.
Right at the outset I made a substantial error. Note that I refer to
my faux pas as an "error." Though responsible for the misstep I
select a suitable word to describe what happened. Thus when I bungle
I always call it an "error," because "To err is human and to forgive
divine." In contrast, when you mess up, that's a "mistake," which
could well be the product of gross stupidity and sheer incompetence.
As a consequence of my miscalculation my client was in an untenable
position, which unfortunately he realized. He was upset-but not I.
Of course, I'm caring-but not t-h-a-t much, 'cause I'm getting paid
by the day. Unquestionably, because of this attitude, things turned
around the next day and we concluded the deal with my client doing
twice as well as he expected.
I now returned home to my family feeling rather triumphant. Walking
into my household I was expecting that wonderful greeting that I
have been expecting for decades. Only this time I noticed the
atmosphere was particularly strained. Approaching my significant
other, my wife, I asked the obvious: "What's wrong? What's going on
here?" Quickly I learned that in my absence the family had organized
against me. In effect, I had my own little "Solidarity Movement"
operating here. It was like a welcome to Gdansk.
Well, what's the problem? Quickly I learned that they all wanted me
to speak to our youngest child about cleaning up his room. To me
this was trivial, as I try to concern myself with broader
problems-like nuclear proliferation. (By all accounts the pubescent
Amy Carter and I were the only people who worried about that issue.)
"Okay, let me give all of you another option. Get the kid to close
his door." They didn't buy that. Successively they were on my back
assaulting me with a verbal barrage: "Dad, things are growing in his
room that have never been planted ... Your son is a slob who takes
after you ... He's corrupting the family chromosomes." And then came
the final kicker, "Forget all the stuff you're involved in, Mr.
World Traveler, this is the only heritage you're leaving behind."
Amid all this I became passionately involved with a twelve-year-old
child. No longer was this a mere game. It was my life and my legacy.
As it happened, I became so emotionally enmeshed with this kid and
his siblings that I not only got out-negotiated but also humiliated
in the process.
All this is to say that whenever a social interaction looms so large
in your mind that you view it as a watershed event in Western
Civilization, you're in trouble. You're caring too much and with
that you lose the requisite detachment necessary for success.
There's a prosaic saying that when a person is overcome with
feelings, be it anger or desire, he or she "can't see the forest for
the trees." Oddly, or maybe fittingly, when that happens you move in
so close that you might even swear, "There is no tree, only a
knothole right here." In other words, what you must do is train
yourself to step back, so you can see the pattern, relationships,
and interconnection of things.
* * *
ITEM: In the fifth century B.C., the Chinese military and political
strategist Sun Tzu commented about the wisdom of perspective. In
essence he wrote that "during an engagement a leader should not be
in the midst of his forces but a little distance apart. Otherwise,
his outlook will be distorted and he will misjudge the situation as
* * *
Earlier, I said that negotiating often involves the managing of
conflict. At times, however, some conflicts that come your way need
not be confronted but should be avoided. If you have some
perspective you can see things beginning to develop and use your
lead time to adopt a blueprint of avoidance. Another strategy that
comes with distance is to diffuse or reconcile differences before
they even come to a head. Finally, a third option is to confront the
problem directly looking for alternate solutions that will provide
for joint gain and build mutually beneficial relationships.
So, although negotiation is a game, it is best played as one of
addition, not subtraction or exclusion. This means that we must
often dampen our adversarial urge and drain some of the emotional
content from life's strategic interactions. Recognize that this
encounter which seems so important right now in the long run will be
no more than a blip on the radar screen of eternity or a walnut in
the batter of your life.
Perhaps you are wondering whether the author of this book, someone
with some negotiating savvy and experience, ever gets bested in
business dealings. Interestingly enough I only have to recount an
event that transpired last year to make the point.
As you may know, for at least three decades I have been on the
lecture circuit, getting paid to speak on subjects ranging from
international terrorism to professional selling to dispute
resolution. When prospective clients want to use my services they
either call a speaker's bureau or sometimes my office. When they
contact my office directly to work out the terms of the booking they
never get to speak to me on that first call. There is, of course, a
reason for that. You see, my speaking fees are astronomical and
there's no way I can honestly justify earning the kind of money that
However, the people in my office who make the initial arrangements
don't have my compunctions. When you call, they care about booking
the date, but not t-h-a-t much. Consequently, without batting an eye
they throw out that astronomical number. Usually the fee we quote is
immediately accepted without negotiations. Understandably, it's due
to our presentation. Consider, for example: "Here's Herb's standard
fee. Now you would like his standard performance wouldn't you?" The
retort is almost always predictable: "And what does that include?"
Our answer is always the same: "First and foremost a guarantee that
he'll show up. You would want that, wouldn't you?" At this point the
prospect is transformed into a client when they blurt out "Oh yes."
This occurs 90 percent of the time. In the case of the small
minority, they occasionally become indignant and say something like
"Forget it, I can get Henry Kissinger for less." Given this scenario
I don't even know who these people are since I never work for them.
Which brings me to the phone call received this past year from a
large information technology company in Silicon Valley, California.
As the events were recounted to me, a female executive phoned to
inquire about my fees for a specific conference to take place in San
Francisco. To be sure, the dialogue followed a routine pattern.
After discussing the length of the talk, the composition of the
audience, and so on, there's invariably an inquiry along the lines
of, "What will this cost? How much is Herb's remuneration?" or the
standard rhyming couplet, "So what will the fee be?" At this
juncture those in my office quoted the standard "astronomical fee"
knowing that on occasion this might produce a contentious reaction,
at least from that unknown 10 percent.
However, the woman executive on the other end of the line went
against the norm and our expectations. What she did was creative,
differentiating herself and her conference from all others. Alas,
she was applying the theory that "A nose that can hear is worth two
that can smell." While I'm not exactly sure what that means,
nonetheless I know it works.
Instead of saying "How much does he want?" or "What do we have to
pay?" she inquired softly, "So what would Herb's honorarium be?" Our
initial reaction was, "Honorarium? What the hell is that?" Being
somewhat familiar with Latin I know that when you translate it into
English it means "You're getting less." And the reason I know that,
is when people are offering me more honor that's going to leave over
less "arium." Fortunately, the people in our office don't know Latin
so they came back with the standard astronomical fee.
The other side's rejoinder was not emotional, nothing like, "Who
does he think he is? Nobody merits that!" Rather she said, "We know
he's worth what you're asking. What's more, our executive VP heard
him speak previously and said his value is at least twice that
amount. And if we had that kind of money it would indeed be our
privilege, our pleasure, and our honor to offer him that. But
regrettably this is all we have in our budget." Did that work? Well,
six months later I was on stage at the San Francisco Sheraton
fulfilling my commitment.
* * *
ITEM: In the golden age of television, Jackie Gleason's show was one
of CBS's highest rated programs. William Paley, the network's CEO,
was anxious to re-sign him, only Gleason wanted to be paid a then
unheard of sum of $11 million a year. During the final bargaining
session, the Great One, who was hungover, fell asleep during the
argument over money. Paley, observing his condition, said, "Okay, if
that's his attitude [caring but not t-h-a-t much], give him what he
* * *
VOLUNTARY DECISION MAKING
Fundamentally, what negotiating is all about is voluntary decision
Excerpted from Negotiate This!
by Herb Cohen
Copyright © 2003 by Herb Cohen.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This is a wonderful, funny, mind boggling book. It is a great gift book (hey, who doesn't give books if you are a reader!) for anyone that has been in business!
Self boasting book with little content main advice is not to care about outcome to the point where it affects your abilirty to walk away