Best Negotiators in History: Nelson Mandela and His Negotiation Style

More than just one of the best negotiators in in history, Mandela combined collaboration with strong principles

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Best Negotiators in History: Nelson Mandela and His Negotiation Style

The late Nelson Mandela will certainly be remembered as one of the best negotiators in history. He was “the greatest negotiator of the twentieth century,” wrote Harvard Law School professor and Program on Negotiation Chairman Robert H. Mnookin in his seminal book, Bargaining with the Devil, When to Negotiate, When to Fight.

In his chapter on Mandela, Mnookin cites Mandela’s patience, tenacity, pragmatism, and strategic thinking: “He rejected the simple-minded notion that one must either negotiate with the Devil or forcibly resist. He did both. He was willing to make concessions, but not about what was most important to him. With respect to his key political principles, he was unmovable.”


Click here to download your copy of International Negotiations: Cross-Cultural Communication Skills for International Business Executives from
 the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Mnookin noted Mandela’s ability to persuade his adversaries: “He ultimately achieved through negotiation an outcome that could never have been accomplished solely through violence or resistance.”

In examining decisions made in conflicts with evil regimes, where lives and liberty were at stake, Mnookin also compares Mandela’s decision to initiate negotiations with the South African 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. The decisions may have been polar opposite, but the outcomes were equally admirable.

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Bargaining with the Devil

Sometimes negotiators are faced with the unenviable task of bargaining with a counterpart they don’t like, mistrust, or even worse, think is evil. In this article, Robert Mnookin’s book, Bargaining with the Devil, is discussed with reference to conflict management and negotiation strategies that can be employed to deal with difficult people.


Click here to download your copy of International Negotiations: Cross-Cultural Communication Skills for International Business Executives from
 the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Originally published in 2013.

Comments

3 Responses to “Best Negotiators in History: Nelson Mandela and His Negotiation Style”

  • Yishebah B.

    I am grateful for this analysis of Mandela’s critical role in the global transformation of human consciousness in sync with that of his tortured country. While many care not to revere this aspect of his role relative to the political and economic legacy of his negotiation. Yet for institutions like this one to champion this attribute of Mandela in an institutional manner, is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  • Kimani K.

    And yet it is very plausible that he and his people might have ended up with the short end of the stick

    Reply

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