Should you bargain with the Devil?

By — on / Conflict Resolution

In an age of terror, our national leaders face this sort of question every day. Should we negotiate with the Taliban? Iran? North Korea? What about terrorist groups holding hostages?”

In his new book, Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight, Robert Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, suggests a framework for analyzing the most difficult kinds of negotiation challenges so that you can avoid traps and make wise decisions.

Broadening the concept of “devils” beyond the political realm, Mnookin notes that “in private disputes, you may face devils of your own. A business partner has betrayed you and now wants to negotiate a better deal. A marriage is ending and a divorcing spouse is making extortionist demands. A competitor has stolen your intellectual property. You are furious. You may not see your adversary as evil, but your gut tells you to fight it out in court. To negotiate with this person would give him something he wants. It would reward him for his bad behavior. You want your rights vindicated, and the thought of negotiating with your adversary seems wrong.”

“This book is about these kinds of conflicts, which pose some of the most challenging questions in negotiation. A disputant must decide: Should I bargain with the Devil, or resist? By “bargain” I mean attempt to make a deal – try to resolve the conflict through negotiation – rather than fighting it out. By “Devil,” I mean an enemy who has intentionally harmed you in the past or appears willing to harm you in the future. Someone you don’t trust. An adversary whose behavior you may even see as evil.”

Join the Program on Negotiation to celebrate the publication of Robert Mnookin’s new book and to join in a discussion of the issues raised.

Event Date: Thursday February 4, 2010
Time: 5:30PM Reception, 6:00PM Presentation and Discussion
Location: Ropes Gray Room, 2nd Floor Pound Hall, Harvard Law School Campus, 1563 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Click here for more information about the event.

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One Response to “Should you bargain with the Devil?”

  • Andrew B.

    The answer is simple, it depends! If you are involved in a one off transaction where trust isn’t necessary and you are primarily concerned with price. Then yes, you swallow your emotions and make the deal. If you are involved in a collaboration where trust is essential for post implementation etc. then you need to find another partner. After all, evil is only one person’s opinion in this situation.


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