Should you deal with the devil?

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

Adapted from “Should You Do Business with the Enemy?” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, March 2010.

At one time or another, most of us have faced the prospect of negotiating with a sworn enemy—whether a “greedy” sibling, an “evil” ex-spouse, or an “immoral” company. There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether to negotiate with a person or group you consider to be your enemy. In general, however, most people decide too hastily to walk away from such talks or to turn their dispute over to the courts, writes Program on Negotiation Chair Robert Mnookin in his book Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Our emotions cause us to err on the side of not negotiating.

These four guidelines offer a brief overview of Mnookin’s advice on whether to negotiate with an enemy:
1. Analyze. Systematically compare the expected costs and benefits of negotiating.
2. Ask for help. Because you can’t avoid being biased, ask a trusted adviser to help you analyze your alternatives.
3. When in doubt, negotiate. If your careful analysis leaves you feeling torn, proceed with the negotiation. A presumption in favor of negotiation will help you avoid negative emotional traps, such as the tendency to demonize one’s counterpart.
4. Take responsibility. Whenever you are representing others (such as your organization or your family) in a negotiation, it would be a mistake to allow your personal values to override a rational analysis in favor of negotiation.


Robert H. Mnookin is the Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Chair of the PON Executive Committee.  He teaches in the three-day Program on Negotiation for Senior Executives, and will offer a one-day Author Session on Bargaining with the Devil on June 21, 2012.  Visit our Courses and Training page for more information.

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