Press & Reviews
Book Review: Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight By Robert Mnookin Review by Rama Gaind, PS News Books
The book’s red-coloured front cover is a warning: should you really bargain with the devil?
Internationally renowned scholar in conflict resolution Robert Mnookin warns that there is no easy categorical answer. “Sometimes you should bargain with the Devil and other times you should refuse,” he says. “How in particular circumstances should you decide?”
This book shows you how to meet the challenge and make wise decisions.
Anyone you perceive as a harmful adversary is the devil. Disputes can arise in your personal or professional life, but don’t be blinded by the “inescapable tension between achieving justice for past wrongs and the need for resolution”.
Mnookin examines eight high-stakes conflicts where real people – including Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela – had to decide what to do. He not only draws from history, but uses his own professional experience to provide a framework that allows you to decide whether to fight or negotiate with the devil or question whether the other side is the devil.
While the stories can’t capture the full range of situations in which the devil may make an appearance, this leader in the art of negotiation proposes a process to help structure decision-making in emotionally-charged conflict situations.
The first case study of Analtoli Sharansky, the Soviet dissident, reveals just how much of a challenge this conflict of heart-versus-mind poses to a decision-maker; and that’s the intertwining theme through the other cases.
There are no easy answers to this dilemma, but Mnookin’s response to whether you should bargain with the devil is simple: “Not always, but more often than you feel like it”.
These captivating tales illustrate how to approach life’s most difficult disputes – with a dignified purpose.
Bargaining with the Devil is hardly the last word, but Mnookin’s “approach should allow you to think more clearly about how to navigate this terrain with integrity – and wisdom”.
Book Review: Bargaining With the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin Review by A. JUREK, BLOGCRITICS.ORG Updated 04:19 p.m., Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Back in the day there was a book called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In and 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-making Bargaining 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 of Getting 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 wants to improve their decision-making skills.
There are times in our lives when we face a “devil”: A business partner betrays us and then demands a new, better deal; a collegue steals our idea and gets promoted; a spouse makes extortionist demands in divorce proceedings; the list goes on. In each instance, however, the situation is emotionally supercharged because we have been deeply wronged. In such a moment, the idea that we should even think about whether to negotiate or not may seem incomprehensible. We don’t want to give in to our enemies, be perceived as weak or legitimize the enemy’s point of view by proposing to bargain with them. At such moments we can only think of revenge or finding a way to have our point of view vindicated. But Mnookin warns us that emotional traps can lock us into bad choices unless we examine our thinking process. Sometimes it is wise to bargain with a “devil.”
Bargaining With The Devil is comprised of eight case studies that cover a broad range of problem situations ranging from international conflicts to business and family disputes. In each situation the stakes are different, some involving matters of life and death, others having family and business relationships in the balance; in each situation the alternatives to negotiation are different, too: while in international disputes no legal remedy is available, in personal and business disputes courts can play a role. In all instances, however, one party is enraged by the actions of another and fighting seems like the best idea. But Mnookin wants us to stop and think outside of the box of habit and distorted thinking, a common theme in all of the cases he analyzes.
In each case study, Mnookin examines the decision process in “real time” rather than through a post-mortem and the benefit of hindsight, an approach that makes the book engrossing and engaging as he examines the situation from the point of view of the decision makers and only what they knew at the time. His purpose in taking this “real time” approach is to examine the actual decision-making process. In cases such as Churchill’s decision to refuse negotiating with Hitler, the decision seems obviously right in hindsight, but was it in the context of the time? He examines how Churchill made his decisions, how he balanced emotions and analysis and intuition and how he avoided common traps.
Mnookin proposes a process to help structure decision making in emotionally charged conflict situations. Making a good choice involves solving three problems: 1) avoiding the emotional traps that can lead to a knee-jerk reaction, 2) analyzing the costs and benefits of alternatives and 3) addressing the moral and ethical issues that arise, and they inevitably do, posing a challenge in a situation where a cost-benefit analysis suggests a course of action that is morally repugnant. Not that there are easy answers to this dilemma. Just how much of a challenge this conflict of heart vs. mind poses to a decision maker is shown in the first case study of Analtoly Sharanski, the Soviet dissident; but the theme is interwoven through the remaining seven cases. Mnookin offers a structured way to think about these problems and excavates the decision process by the parties in his case studies but there are no easy answers and Mnookin, like any good teacher, offers us the tools and the examination of the possibilities of their use – choices are in the end our own.
When we are caught between the demands of pragmatism and principle,” he writes, “what we really need to ask ourselves is, To what extent should we look backward and to what extent should we focus on the future? There’s often an inescapable tension between achieving justice for past wrongs and the need for resolution. It is another aspect of the Faustian bargain,” Mnookin continues. “If you want to resolve the conflict and move forward, you may have to give the devil something you feel he doesn’t deserve. This is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Should you bargain with a “devil?” Mnookin’s response would be, “Not always, but more often than you feel like it.”
Richard Bernstein, “Is it Time to Negotiate with the Taliban,” Feb. 10, International Herald Tribune and The New York Times Web Site
“To talk or to fight? There’s probably no tougher decision, though a book that came out just this week might help. It’s “Bargaining With the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight,” by Robert H. Mnookin, a professor at Harvard University and chairman of the Program on Negotiation at the Harvard Law School.
“To a considerable extent, Mr. Mnookin, who is both a leading scholar and a practitioner of negotiation, offers a sort of pragmatist’s manifesto. His thesis is grounded in the belief that practical outcomes, especially those that can avert war, are usually to be preferred even when bad has been done and fighting might seem both a more emotionally satisfying and a more principled choice.
“Should you bargain with the Devil?” Mr. Mnookin asks rhetorically. His one-sentence answer: ‘Not always, but more often than you feel like it.’
“’If you want to resolve the conflict and move forward,’ he writes, ‘you may have to give the Devil something you feel he doesn’t deserve. This is a bitter pill to swallow.’
“Lest that sound like an appeaser’s manifesto, Mr. Mnookin makes very clear, particularly in a collection of case studies that are the heart of his book, that talking shouldn’t always take priority over fighting, and, he believes, the question of negotiations with the Taliban presents just such a case.”
“No dilemma in negotiation is more problematic or painful than that of whether or not to negotiate with perceived evil. In this beautifully reasoned book, illustrated with incisive and dramatic case studies, Robert Mnookin guides us through the labyrinth of decision-making and offers a valuable practical framework for arriving at a wise choice. Highly recommended!”
–William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes and author The Power of a Positive No
“Bob Mnookin has produced a seminal book that is remarkably timely, and should help inform our U.S. government officials as they address international conflicts from Iran to North Korea. I only wish the book had been written when I was heading a variety of international negotiations during the Clinton Administration.”
–Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, author of Imperfect Justice
“Are you angry at the evil done to you in your personal life, in your business dealings, or in your nation’s affairs? Mnookin’s masterly analysis of real cases can help you decide whether to fight the devil, negotiate with the devil, or question whether the other side really is the devil.”
–Professor Robert Axelrod, author of The Evolution of Cooperation
“Bargaining with the Devil should be required reading for anyone who faces a profound conflict—whether as a manager, lawyer or concerned citizen. Through riveting tales recounted with crisp elegance, Mnookin shows how to approach life’s most difficult disputes with dignity and purpose.”
–Ben W. Heineman, Jr., senior fellow, Harvard University schools of law and government
“Business executives and managers, no less than diplomats, often face adversaries they don’t like or trust. Through wonderful stories, Mnookin shows that sometimes we should resist, but that we should negotiate far more often than our intuitive or emotional self would suggest. Bargaining with the Devil explains how to approach life’s difficult conflicts and make wise decisions.”
—Max H. Bazerman, Straus Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, coauthor of Negotiation Genius
“This important new book fills a void and should be required reading whether you are a professional negotiator, a public official, or a private citizen.”
—Ken Feinberg, mediator and special master; author of What Is Life Worth?