Book Review: Secrets of Power Negotiating

I recently read Secrets of Power Negotiating and felt it was worth passing along.

The book is divided into seven sections:

  1. Playing the power negotiating game. Learning how to use different techniques to move the other side towards your maximum plausible position.
  2. Resolving tough negotiation problems through mediation, arbitration, and conflict resolution.
  3. Negotiation pressure points. Al Capone once said, “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun, than you can with a kind word alone.”
  4. Negotiating with non-Americans. This section relied heavily on stereotypes and I didn’t feel it contributed to the book.
  5. Understanding the players. Remember that you’re dealing with individuals who are probably advancing their own agendas.
  6. Developing power over the other side or the ability to influence other people.
  7. Negotiation drives. Power negotiators understand that the other side may have a different agenda and different drives than they have and use this to their advantage.

This book starts out advocating a win-win approach to negotiations and uses the example of two sides negotiating for the use of an orange. Unknown to them, both sides have different uses in mind. One wants the juice, the other wants the peel. The author implies that if both sides talk about it, the will discover that they can both be made happy. This is a clever example but I don’t believe it has any realism. I would expect that most people involved in any type of negotiation would know what uses the other side had for the orange and would be attempting to get all of it. With my 28 years of experience in the business world, I have found this to be the case.

However, this was a worthwhile read and it opened my eyes to some aspects of negotiating I have never experienced or even considered. In many cases I was reminded of how I had been manipulated in negotiations and how I had been manipulative in others. For example, I have unknowingly used the Reluctant Seller when selling a home, telling my real estate agent that I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell it after receiving a low offer. In actuality, I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell it for that price. The buyers immediately increased their offer and then I negotiated an even higher price after that.

Negotiations and car sales

Most people’s thoughts about negotiations turn to their dealings with vehicle purchases and how they were exploited and manipulated. I found myself remembering how car dealers had used many, if not most of the gambits, ethical and unethical, on me (mostly unethical). After reading this book, I cannot wait to go buy another car!

In another personal experience, again selling a vehicle, I had it priced right at book value and needed to sell it. I hadn’t driven it more than twice in the past year and it showed. I was only asking $1,500 for it. It was in good running condition and was a solid vehicle when a potential buyer offered me $1,000. I flinched, visibly. I told him that I could donate it to charity, take a tax write-off of probably $6,000 and then recoup $1,500 on my taxes. Then I turned to walk back into the house. He increased his offer to $1,400 and we eventually agreed on $1,475. I used The Flinch, Walking Away, and Not Jumping at the First (or Second, or even the Third) Offer techniques.

Negotiation skills and the Dark Side

I believe I will have to be personally careful in how I use the ideas and techniques in this book. Knowing how to influence a person to your way of thinking has, I believe, the potential to be used improperly and I think that some of the tactics and maneuvers mentioned in the book have the potential to be used in an unethical way. Using the Higher Authority gambit, Reluctant Buyer/Seller, Good Guy/Bad Guy, and Nibbling techniques all have at least some potential to be misused because they can rely on slight misrepresentation and semi-truths. Intentionally confusing another person, making an outrageous move that is downright wrong (called The Fait Accompli), and acting crazy are all unethical in my opinion and should have been listed as such. There are times I think we need to ask ourselves, “Would I be proud if my children knew and understood what I was doing?”

I was disappointed to read how the author views negotiations with people from other countries and cultures. I was astounded that he made such broad strokes about how people from different national heritages all negotiate. I personally believe that all people are individuals and that a negotiator runs a severe risk in making assumptions on the basis of race, national origin, or ethnic background. Just because you’re negotiating with someone from the Far East doesn’t mean they have not been heavily influenced by living and working in the West. Making assumptions about a person’s mindset is a critical mistake in my experience.

However, there is much more positive in this book than negative. I believe that if you truly do have a win-win attitude and project a spirit of cooperation to the other side, they will be much more willing to try to work with you rather than work against you. The author says that negotiations are a two way street. I agree to a point, but I think a much better metaphor is that negotiation is like two people inside a vehicle, trying to decide who gets to drive. Both are traveling to the same destination. Both are in a similar situation. Both would like to be in total control of what streets or roads to take. There will be times that both will be happy with taking a certain road, there will be times that one will prefer a different road. The point is, there will be times that a compromise must be agreed upon. A Power Negotiator must know what roads he or she considers critical to his or her success and what roads the other side considers critical.

Before reading this book, I was under the impression that negotiation was a process shrouded in mystique. I think that most people approach the negotiation process with a little fear and trepidation because they are fearful of being manipulated into making a decision they would not make under ordinary conditions. I now know that there is a specific sequence of events and that there are specific methods to get the other side to agree to your position.

Here is a pocket guide list of how to negotiate:

  • Always seek a win-win solution. You never know when you’ll be negotiating with this person or organization again.
  • Do not jump at the first offer.
  • Always ask for more than you expect.
  • Flinch at the other side’s proposal.
  • Avoid confrontation (Don’t be a jerk).
  • Play Reluctant Buyer or Seller.
  • Use the Vice Gambit. “You’ll have to do better than that.”
  • Use Higher Authority and Good Guy/Bad Guy.
  • Never offer to split the difference.
  • Set aside impasse issues.
  • Always ask for a trade off.
  • Taper your concessions. Don’t compromise the same amount every time, make your concessions smaller and smaller.
  • Position the other side for easy acceptance. Make it easy for them to say yes.
  • Never allow the negotiation to be narrowed down to a single issue. There is always a winner and a loser in a single-issue negotiation. If things have gotten to this point, introduce more issues!
  • Don’t assume that price is the only issue.
  • Don’t be too greedy. It is disgusting to the other side.
  • Consider giving a little more than you promised. It never hurts to go above and beyond with service. People will remember and appreciate it.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

I recommend you BUY . It would be a great reference book to have on your shelf. It is an easy read and the 67 chapters are generally short, entertaining, enlightening, and fun. The tactics would be very useful in many circumstances, from a personal standpoint as well as a business and financial standpoint.