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.
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