Negotiation Genius


Negotiation is an interesting field because it's one of those fields where the conventional wisdom is usually wrong. Based on the people I've worked with in my career, I would say people think good negotiators are aggressive, good at bluffing, push heavily on price, and try to beat down their opponents. A good negotiator would never take the first offer. A good negotiator would never approach negotiations by accepting that they have the weaker position. But this is all wrong. A good negotiator gets what they want without the other side realizing what they gave up. A good negotiator leaves the other side feeling satisfied and happy, thinking they got a good deal regardless of whether or not they really did. A good negotiator is more prepared, and understands the situation as it is, instead of falling prey to their negotiation fantasies.

I've read a lot about negotiation over the years because it's one of my favorite topics. So I was excited at the chance to review Negotiation Genius. This is far and away the best book on negotiation I have ever read. Why? Because it is based on research. It is practical and direct. More importantly, it provides the type of situational answers that I prefer.

For instance, most people will tell you "never make the first offer – let the other side show their hand first." Or else they will tell you "always make the first offer" so you can set the anchor for what follows. People seem to have a philosophy about making the first offer and they stick to it. This book provides an answer that I think is much better. Make the first offer when you have an informational advantage. If you know the subject area well and fully understand the context of the negotiation, the ZOPA, and other side's BATNA, then make the first offer and anchor it in your favor. Otherwise, let the other side go first.

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Another recommendation in the book is to be creative and find value creation opportunities that aren't obvious. A good negotiator plays the game well; a negotiation genius changes the nature of the game itself. I usually go into negotiations trying to give the other side the price they want. Why? Because price is the public number. People want to tell their friends they got $X for their house, car, whatever, so they will offer more value in other ways if you will let them hit their price target so they look good. Maybe you could knock them down 5% on price, but why do that when you can let them have their price and get 15% in concessions elsewhere? If other people have an irrational obsession with price, take advantage of it.

This book has three primary sections. The first goes through the basics of negotiation and provides a solid foundation. The second examines irrationality and cognitive biases that affect negotiators. The third looks at real world examples and discusses ways to avoid negotiation blind spots, how to confront lies and deception, and when not to negotiate. It works well as an introductory text on negotiation, or as a refresher for advanced negotiators.

Negotiation is something most businesspeople have to do at some point. While you don't need to be an expert, you do need to understand what is going on and have a solid understanding of the strategies and tactics of negotiation, and when to use the right ones. I rate this book very highly, and I think it should have a spot on the bookshelf of any manager or entrepreneur.

  • Thanks for making very good points and a review that has motivated me to read this book, which I rarely do. Negotiating is almost never about price or need and usually about want.

    In 1975, Toyota won the prestigious Import Car of the Year Award for their Corolla Hatchback. I was negotiating for part of the campaign, one-on-one, over a $65 lunch, about $250 in today’s money. Our quote of $25,000 was countered with his statement that he had bet the president of Motor Trend that he could get this program done for under $15,000. I asked him how much his bet was and he replied, “Lunch at the 21 Club”, to which I responded, “I’ll pay for the lunch”. We closed the deal at full price.

    The other side’s needs are what establish value, and value establishes price. Price should never be negotiated until both parties have defined value. As you stated, putting the table is not hurtful, but responding first to an offer is usually a mistake.

    As pointed out in “Getting to Yes”, by Roger Fisher, Bruce M. Patton, and William L. Ury never negotiate over objectives such as price. Responding to on offer makes price the focus of the negotiation, when it should always be the needs of both parties’.