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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Practical Introduction to Negotiation, 8 Dec. 2010
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This review is from: Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond (Paperback)
Negotiation Genius is an extremely readable introduction to the world of negotiation. Written by a pair of Harvard professors, Genius walks the reader through key principles of successful negotiating. The authors are acutely aware of the likely audience's need for something tangible and concrete to take away and have explicitly constructed their work to be a toolkit for handling common scenarios.

The use of case studies throughout the book is an excellent way to handle the queries that inevitable arise. The best case study of all concerns the Cuban Missile Crisis which is accompanied by the author's implication that Kennedy was able to think strategically about negotiating even in the face of nuclear annihilation so what is it that another negotiation faces that is really so dangerous. Not all of the case studies work though - the example where one of the authors pays off a bunch of troublemakers to stop them attacking is hardly the height of ingenuity or bravery.

While Negotiation Genius is a textbook, it does not really read like one. The thought process behind negotiation strategy is laid out very effectively. The work begins with an introduction to value creation and capturing, explores the psychology of negotiation including non-rational behaviour, and tackles key real life issues including negotiating from weakness, handling liars etc. The tips are well thought-out and the messaging is generally highly consistent. The underlying theme seems to be securing as much information as possible before, during, and after the negotiation.

Malhotra and Bazerman have a firm belief in the self-interest of being cooperative. Their explanation of providing information in order to receive information makes sense. However, there is one inconsistency that is glaring - the ethics of negotiation are not well covered. Bazerman in particular has a theory about the evils of parasitic value creation. A chapter is devoted to Bazerman's idea and frankly it reads like a stereotypical academic begging the world to be more liberal and friendly. The ethics discussed are wholly at odds with the fundamental principle laid out in the first chapters of creating and then claiming as much value as possible. Lying in a negotiation is wrong according to Bazerman yet putting in an offer that is clearly unrepresentative of the negotiator's real position is not only acceptable but required. It is not possible for the academic to have it both ways - either the other side of the negotiation table can be influenced using the tips in this book or the negotiator should focus primarily on doing the right thing by society.

Genius is clearly written with hard-nosed American businesspeople in mind. The stereotype is that such people will be ruthless and potentially lacking the breadth of vision to understand that negotiation is often a game of repeated interaction. For those of us who are not so typically hard minded it is less useful to be continually reminded of the need to play the long game. Indeed, for anyone who has background in game theory the principles that Malhotra and Bazerman espouse will generally be quite recognisable. It is only the tips of how to achieve the influence that are different from the underlying decision theory.

While it is always easy to find the few flaws, Negotiation Genius is an excellent primer for the world of negotiation. It is not restricted to the simple price negotiation that is really quite easy to understand but instead builds on the range of real-life interactions that exist. While much of the case study material is just about price, it ranges all the way up to multilateral negotiations at the UN. For any negotiator not already steeped in years of experience and study on the matter, Negotiation Genius is a good way to start.
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