Should negotiating with the enemy always be off the table? The 2014 Bergdahl exchange offers insights for negotiators who are deciding whether to do business with a known enemy. On May 31, 2014 the White House made the surprise announcement that the Taliban had released Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the sole American prisoner of war in the … Read More
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bargaining with the devil
What is Bargaining With the Devil?
Program on Negotiation Chair Robert Mnookin’s book “Bargaining with the Devil” uses eight conflicts drawn from history and his own professional experience to offer a framework that applies equally to international conflicts and everyday life.
Negotiations can sometimes feel like you are bargaining with the devil. In those instances, negotiators face the difficult question of whether to continue to negotiate with someone they believe to be immoral, untrustworthy, or otherwise undesirable as a negotiating partner.
At one time or another, most of us have faced the prospect of bargaining with the devil—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.
Choosing categorically never to negotiate with an enemy is typically a mistake, because negotiation can be so effective in ending a protracted conflict. Often the first step in bargaining with the devil, is for us to learn how to “de-demonize” your counterpart.
The next challenge is to analyze the costs and benefits of bargaining with the devil as rationally as possible. This process involves answering the following key questions:
1. Interests: What are my interests in the negotiation? What are my adversary’s interests?
2. Alternatives: What are my and my adversary’s alternatives to negotiation?
3. Potential negotiated outcomes: Are there any potential deals that could satisfy both sides’ interests better than our alternatives to negotiation?
4. Costs: What costs will the negotiation entail (including financial, time, and reputational costs)? Might the negotiation set a bad precedent?
5. Implementation: What are the odds that we will be able to implement any deal we might reach?
This framework should add more clarity to the decision of whether or not to engage with an enemy.
Discover how to handle difficult people and challenging conversations in this free special report, Dealing with Difficult People, from Harvard Law School.
The following items are tagged bargaining with the devil:
Whether you are facing negotiations with Congress, colleagues, customers, or family members, the following negotiation books, published in recent years by experts from the Program on Negotiation, offer new perspectives on common negotiating dilemmas. … Read More
The late Nelson Mandela will certainly be remembered as one of the best negotiators in history. He was clearly “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. … Read More
Over the years, what many believe to be Jesus’s tomb in Jerusalem’s Old City has been the site of tensions that have at times escalated into violence. Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic communities guard the shrine surrounding the tomb, which they consider the holiest site in … Read More
Sometimes your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is realizing that the negotiation itself is worth the risk. Back in May 2012, the United States and Russia announced a plan to hold a peace conference aimed at ending the civil war in Syria, which had killed more than 70,000 people at that time. … Read More
We recently received a question from a reader regarding a business contract conflict. Robert Mnookin, Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, chair of the Program on Negotiation, and author of Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight (Simon & Schuster, 2010), explains that you may have more options than it … Read More
Whether a conflict erupts at work or at home, we frequently fall back on the tendency to try to correct the other person or group’s perceptions, lecturing them about why we’re right—and they’re wrong. Deep down, we know that this conflict management approach usually fails to resolve the conflict and often only makes it worse. … Read More
Some people learn to negotiate on the job, in a classroom, or in a therapist’s office. In Nelson Mandela’s case, “prison taught him to be a master negotiator,” writes Bill Keller in his New York Times obituary of the legendary activist turned president, who died on December 5, 2013. Soon after his arrival at South Africa’s … Read More
Business negotiators sometimes face the difficult question of whether to negotiate with someone they believe to be immoral, untrustworthy, or otherwise undesirable as a negotiating partner. In his book Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight (Simon & Schuster, 2011), Program on Negotiation chair Robert Mnookin offers negotiation advice on the complex … Read More
The fallout from Iceland’s financial crisis offers a case study in dealing with those who have suffered a significant blow to their self-esteem. In late 2008, Iceland teetered on the edge of bankruptcy following the collapse of its three largest banks. Since becoming independent of the government in 2002, the banks had pursued a strategy … Read More
The year 2017 offered plenty of negotiation hits and misses in the realms of government, business, and beyond. To avoid failed negotiations in 2018, politicians, business leaders, and the rest of us would be wise to explore the following recent negotiation books, which can help steer us through our most difficult negotiating dilemmas: … Read More
Astronomers consider Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that rises more than two miles above the Pacific Ocean on the island of Hawaii, to be the premier site in the world for viewing the night sky. Due to the volcano’s high altitude and tranquil, dark nights, NASA and groups of scientists from around the globe began … Read More
In business negotiations, we sometimes face the task of dealing with difficult people—those who seem to pick fights, hold offensive views, or rely on hard-bargaining tactics. Some of us naturally turn away from such difficult negotiations. Others choose to try to overlook or overcome the flaws they see in potential negotiating partners. … Read More
Program on Negotiation faculty discuss the negotiation strategies used by US President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans negotiating the end of the shutdown of the United States government. … Read More
The Program on Negotiationat Harvard Law School is pleased to co-sponsor the Harvard Hillel’s second Riesman Forum on Politics and Policy Today’s Middle East and Israel’s Elections: What is at Stake? with Ambassador Dennis Ross William Davidson Distinguished Fellow The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Professor Gabriella Blum Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Harvard Law School Moderated by Professor Robert H. Mnookin Samuel Williston … Read More
In the business world, we sometimes are tempted to avoid negotiating with unsavory counterparts—people or groups we view to be immoral, untrustworthy, or simply unlikable—even if they appear to offer the straightest path to our goals. Imagine a counterpart who works in a business that you believe to be immoral, someone who has a reputation for gossiping, or … Read More
On December 7, the news broke that Pierre Korkie, a South African who had been held hostage in Yemen by Al Qaeda, was killed by his guards just hours before his scheduled release due to a botched U.S. attempt to free another hostage. The tragedy suggests the dangers not only of refusing to engage in … Read More
CNN Tonight host Dan Lemon recently featured Program on Negotiation Chair Robert Mnookin along with fellow Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, storied commentator Anne Coulter, and Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, for a panel discussion regarding the recent exchange of Taliban prisoner for US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl. The night’s discussion centered on whether or … Read More
After the conclusion of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu labeled collusion with a terrorist organization, the Middle East peace process has arrived at another, hopefully temporary, standstill. … Read More
The Washington Post’s “On Leadership” column by Jenna McGregor asked renowned negotiation experts on how the government shutdown in Washington, DC could be ended at the bargaining table. Among the experts interviewed were Robert Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (PON) and author of Bargaining With The Devil: When To Negotiate, … Read More
Program on Negotiation Chair and “Bargaining with the Devil” author Robert Mnookin was recently asked by CNN Fortune’s Claire Zillman about the strategies that Obama could employ in bringing congressional Republicans to the bargaining table in order to end the three-day old government shutdown. … Read More
The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School held a panel discussion following a screening of My Neighborhood, a Just Vision documentary. The podcast is now available. … Read More
The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School are pleased to present a screening of “My Neighborhood,” a new Just Vision documentary. A panel discussion will be held after the screening with Julia Bacha, director/producer of My Neighbourhood. … Read More
Program on Negotiation Chair Robert Mnookin was honored by the International Academy of Mediators with a lifetime achievement award during the organization’s fall 2012 conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. … Read More
Hostage negotiations are challenging in any situation, but the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange involving Gilad Shalit in 2011 was more challenging than most. Learning lessons from this exchange was the topic of a panel discussion, entitled “In the Aftermath of the Shalit Deal: Insights regarding Hostage-Barricade Situations and Hostage Negotiations,” held at Haifa University’s School of … Read More
In December 2011, Professor Robert Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation, was invited by Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, to speak on the topic of his recent book: Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate and When to Fight. Part of a series on “Distinguished American Speakers, ” the event was held in … Read More
Success in negotiation, according to Professor Robert H. Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation, depends largely on being capable of managing each of the three tensions that he defines as being inevitable within almost any negotiation process. These include the tension between how to expand value and how to divide … Read More
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Robert H. Mnookin, Professor at Harvard Law School and Chair of the Program on Negotiation, reflects on Israel’s recent decision to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the safe return of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas. From a negotiating standpoint, according to Mnookin, … Read More
Bargaining with the Devil A PON Webinar with Professor Robert Mnookin Samuel Williston Professor of Law, Harvard Law School Chair, Program on Negotiation Executive Committee Date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 Time: 1:00 PM to 2:15 PM ET .
About the Webinar: From the NFL to state governments, negotiation is in the news these days. The issues are vastly different, but these two negotiations have one … Read More
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 … Read More
Bargaining with the Devil A PON Webinar with Professor Robert Mnookin Samuel Williston Professor of Law, Harvard Law School Chair, Program on Negotiation Executive Committee Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 Time: 1:00 PM to 2:15 PM ET To register, click here.
About the Webinar: From the NFL to state governments, negotiation is in the news these days. The issues are vastly different, but these two … Read More
PON Chair Robert Mnookin discussed his book Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight on Nevada Public Radio on February 24th. To listen to the interview, click here. Professor Mnookin will be teaching a one-day Executive Education course based on Bargaining with the Devil on April 21. Click here to learn more about the … Read More
Robert Mnookin (Samuel Williston Professor of Law; Harvard Law School; Chair, Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School; author of “Bargaining with the Devil”; co-author of “Beyond Winning”) What factors determine whether you should negotiate? What things influence the bargaining process? Should you negotiate with your “enemy”? If so, how? In this piece, Robert Mnookin draws … Read More
Negotiating with an adversary you don’t trust or who you think may be out to harm you requires a special set of skills. Your tone and language are just two key components. In a recent interview on the PBS NewsHour, Robert Mnookin, chair of the Program on Negotiation and author of Bargaining With the Devil, … Read More
PON Chair, Professor Robert Mnookin was featured last night on the PBS NewsHour. He discusses the art of doing difficult negotiations during tough economic times.
To learn more about Professor Mnookin’s recent book, “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight,” click here. To watch more PON videos, click here. … Read More
PON Chair, Professor Robert Mnookin will be featured on the PBS NewsHour tonight discussing his recent book, “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight.” To find your local PBS schedule and channel, click here and enter your zip code. To read more about “Bargaining with the Devil,” click here. … Read More
Professor Robert Mnookin was featured in the print version of the Harvard Gazette in February 2010. Prof. Mnookin’s new book, “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight” was featured in the Gazette’s book section Harvard Bound in the February 18-25 issue. Please click here for the full article. … Read More
On February 13, 2010, Prof. Robert Mnookin was interviewed on National Public Radio’s show, “All things considered” about his new book, “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight”. Click here to hear the interview or read the transcript. … Read More
Robert H. Mnookin, author of Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight, will be interviewed on March 17th, 2010 on Negotiate! Radio. Negotiate! Radio is a nonprofit community service initiative. Its objectives are to collect and diffuse information on negotiation, mediation, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR), both in theory and by analyzing … Read More
Professor Robert Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, published an article for the Foreign Policy online magazine this week based on his new book, “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight.” The article discusses how President Obama should deal with the evils he is confronted with. Click here … Read More
Professor Robert Mnookin’s “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight,” was highlighted in Richard Bernstein’s New York Times article, “Is it Time to Engage the Taliban?” Published yesterday, Bernstein uses Professor Mnookin’s most recent book as a framework to discuss whether now is the time for the Obama administration to negotiate with … Read More
Professor Robert Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School is featured on the Harvard Law School website homepage this week. … Read More
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, … Read More
On Thursday, February 4, 2010, join us to celebrate the publication of Professor Robert Mnookin’s new book Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight. This event is co-sponsored by Harvard Law School, the Program on Negotiation, and Facing History and Ourselves. The evening will begin with a reception at 5:30 PM in Ropes … Read More