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Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight Hardcover – February 9, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Drawing from a remarkable range of real-life stories, Mnookin offers his thoughtful guidance in disputes of all sorts where the temptation is to demonize:

The CEO of a small high-tech company learns that his joint-venture partner, a big foreign corporation, has been secretly cheating him under a license agreement; IBM discovers that Fujitsu, its largest competitor, has copied its software; the San Francisco Symphony is torn apart by poisoned labor-management relations; divorcing spouses, each feeling wounded and betrayed, disagree about custody and support; three siblings are in conflict about what to do with a jointly inherited vacation property.

Mnookin also examines decisions made in conflicts with evil regimes, where lives and liberty were at stake. He analyzes Winston Churchill's fateful choice in May 1940--Britain's darkest hour--to reject negotiations with Adolf Hitler and to carry on the fight. He compares Nelson Mandela's decision to initiate negotiations with the South Africa apartheid government that had imprisoned him for life with the imprisoned Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky's decision not to negotiate with the KGB for his freedom. And Mnookin evaluates with sensitivity the Hungarian Jew Rudolf Kasztner's still controversial decision to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann in the hope of saving lives.

This lively, informative, indispensable book identifies the tools one needs to make wise decisions about life's most challenging conflicts.

Read an excerpt for Bargaining with the Devil.

From Publishers Weekly

Mnookin, head of Harvard's Program on Negotiation, combines business, history, philosophy and psychology to present a complete set of tools for confronting "Devils," defined as any individual perceived as a harmful adversary. Examining eight conflicts, including Winston Churchill's decision to reject negotiations with Adolf Hitler, Nelson Mandela's decision to initiate discussions with South Africa's apartheid government, IBM's discovery that its largest competitor copied its software, poisoned labor-management issues in the San Francisco Symphony, and examples from his professional experience, Mnookin (Beyond Winning) provides a straightforward account of the deliberative options when facing a "Faustian tension between pragmatism and principle." 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. END

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416583327
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416583325
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ryan Vlasak on August 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Mnookin begins Bargaining with the Devil with the important and timely question of whether you should negotiate with parties you view as evil and uncompromising, and ends with the simple and commonsensical answer: "Not always, but more often than you feel like it."

For examples of negotiating with "evil," Mnookin divides the book into "global devils," "business devils," and "family devils." In the section on global devils, Mnookin explains why he thinks Rudolf Kasztner was right to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann, why Winston Churchill was right not to negotiate with Hitler, and why Nelson Mandela was right to negotiate with the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the other two sections, Mnookin draws on his experience as a mediator and relates more difficult but successful mediations involving IBM v. Fujitsu, the San Francisco symphony, and family law disputes.

While Mnookin's political examples are well-researched and interesting in revealing the details of the decision-making process of the various actors, and while his examples of difficult business and domestic mediations exhibit him as an adept and successful mediator, conspicuously lacking from the book are developed or detailed theories or principles of negotiation that weave the examples together. As a result, the book seems forced and fails to come together as a whole.

Praiseworthy for its ambitious topic and call for conflict resolution, Bargaining with the Devil remains worth reading. But the book's lesson also remains simple: Don't demonize your opponent or overly-moralize your own position or you may end up worse off.

If you're looking for a detailed book on theories and strategies of negotiation, you should look elsewhere, like to Mnookin's own Beyond Winning or Fisher's Getting to Yes.

Ryan Vlasak
Bracamontes & Vlasak, P.C.
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Format: Hardcover
Have you ever fought with someone you thought was evil? Ever felt betrayed by a friend, a family member, a business partner? In these situations, emotions are fundamentally intertwined with any decision to negotiate; in fact, the very act of negotiation may attack one's identity. Moral righteousness is a powerful thing, and notions of right and wrong/good and evil can drive people to forgo negotiation even when it would be in their best interests. This is the struggle that is explored through the seven real-world scenarios in the book. Mnookin analyzes the difficult decisions in each chapter, delving into the possible alternatives to negotiation, providing creative solutions, and assessing the decisions made by the parties. The scenarios range from the harrowing ordeal of negotiating with Nazis to save Jewish lives, to the bitterness of a divorce settlement - all with the common thread of scrutinizing the seemingly impossible task of knowing when to engage and when to refuse (my favorite chapter in particular is the one that focuses on Nelson Mandela's decision to negotiate with the National Party). The book reads like a novel - each story is unique, gripping, and monumental in its own way, yet Mnookin's writing makes them easily accessible to the reader. I found myself completely immersed into each situation (for example, I still cannot decide whether I would have ever negotiated with the KGB). It also provides a critical lens to analyze how to deal with other "evil" actors, such as terrorist regimes, etc.

Decisions to negotiate are everywhere.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a lot of fun! It's quite ambitious, trying to be a number of things at the same time, and I think it largely succeeded.
I expected a combination of philosophical treatise, a la Book of Job or Faustus, and negotiation handbook. Mnookin didn't disappoint on either front, although that's not ultimately what the book's about. It does raise, and sometimes answer, fascinating questions of moral and political philosophy, exploring whether negotiation ever degenerates into "pandering to evil" and the conflicting obligations of a leader to his constituents and his conscience (think Profiles in Courage). And while not a how-to negotiation guide, it provides a fascinating window into the work of a master negotiator, chronicling some of the author's most impressive interventions.
Bargaining with the Devil also has a bit of a self-help flavor to it, laying out the many intellectual and psychological traps that thwart many of our efforts to negotiate thorny situations at work and in our private lives.
Above all though, its a book of stories, some historical and some intensely private. Because most of the chapters are self-contained tales of individuals who faced agonizing decisions of whether or not to negotiate with perceived devils, it's easy to pick this book up for an hour or so on a flight, by the pool or before bed -- and very hard to put it down!
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Format: Hardcover
... but other times, you might want to negotiate.

Whether facing events that could change the world or events that could take place in your living room (or lawyer's office), Mnookin presents a workable framework for addressing the pivotal questions we should consider when we're faced with an adversary who might be evil, or might even be the devil him/herself.

At various times reading this book I found myself cheering Winston Churchill's flat refusal to negotiate with Hitler and then agreeing just as strongly with Rudolph Kastner's willingness to bargain with the same nazis in order to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. What becomes obvious is that the question of whether to bargain with a devil, be it in the form of an evil dictator or a soon-to-be ex-spouse, depends a lot on the circumstances at hand and the interests of the parties involved. By co-opting Mr. Spock as a negotiation consultant, Mnookin presents a very clear, very workable approach to any potential negotiation with a party you might consider evil (and what IS evil, anyway?), and provides valuable keys/advice for determining whether a compromise should be made or the fight should be joined. The limits of Spock's rational approach are explored, and the un-Spockian, human elements of pride/face/honor are considered as a vital piece of the calculus.

Mnookin doesn't come to any hard and fast conclusions in this easy to read and digest how-to guide, but he definitely shows you the way. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever, or will ever, face a devil across the table.
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