Many of you may know Josh Weiss as the Co-Founder of the Global Negotiation Initiative at Harvard University and Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project. Josh also created the popular Negotiation Tip of the Week (NTOW) podcast and the audio book series The Negotiator in You that is published by the BBC. I got to know Josh through the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and through his great work at the Abraham Path Initiative (with Bill Ury), which is devoted to building connections and understanding between the West and the Middle East.
I was excited to learn about Josh’s new book The Book of Real-World Negotiations: Successful Strategies from Business, Government, and Daily Life because I’ve always been impressed by Josh’s ability to introduce complex negotiation concepts through storytelling. Now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I think it’s right in his sweet spot. It does a great job teaching negotiation through real world practical cases and first hand experience. The book contains 25 cases, each of which shares first hand feedback from the parties themselves, revealing their preparation steps, what happened behind closed doors, and the breakthrough moments in their attempts to reach agreement. It's really rare to get a chance to be a fly on the wall in real-world cases like these and the way the stories are told immediately makes negotiation techniques and concepts feel real and practical.
I must confess that I find Negotiation Theory (note the capital letters) kind of dry and abstract. I’ve tried to teach it myself, explaining the alphabet soup of BATNAs, WATNAs and ZOPAs, and I’ve seen the eyes of the audience glaze over as I would get deeper into the weeds of the theory. But telling stories, as this book does, is much more engaging than the acronyms, and Josh is able to artfully insert his expertise into each narrative, which makes the complex concepts covered in the book much clearer and easier to understand. By the end of the book the reader has received a masterclass in negotiation, but they feel like they just read a book of interesting and accessible case studies. And, as Josh notes, research from scholars at Stanford University suggests that people recall stories much more easily than theories or conceptual issues so it has a strong practical element as well.
The book is divided into three sections. Section one focuses on domestic business cases in the United States, including attempts to save a merger, changes to a long term relationship, and threading the needle between short-term and long-term relationships. Section two focuses on international business cases, including how the discovery of new information can lead to better agreements, when rushing to an agreement can be a bad thing and create new problems, family business negotiations and their particular challenges, and how cross-cultural communication can lead to crossed wires. Section three focuses on government and daily life negotiations, including hostage negotiations, peace process negotiations, and how a single word can tip the balance between stalemate and solution.
This book, however, is not just for negotiation scholars and graduate students. The stories are so accessible that anyone can pick this book up and get real value from it. As I was reading it I could picture someone checking it out in an airport bookstore or a Kinkos and getting sucked in, even if they’d never thought about negotiation before. Josh steers clear of academic jargon so there’s no big barrier to entry. Josh is such an experienced teacher and trainer that I think he has seen first hand how stories can provide great benefit to students of negotiation as they envision how negotiation will be relevant in their professional lives. But I think the greatest value of this book is definitely to trainers in negotiation and professors teaching negotiation classes in law and business schools. It’s very time consuming to pull together quality case studies and to present them in an engaging, entertaining way, so I’m guessing professors around the world will jump at the chance to use the cases in this book to compliment their own instruction.
One aspect that the case studies selected by Josh really highlight is that negotiation is often work. Diligence and persistence as well as strategy and creativity all go into a successful negotiation. It’s rarely as easy as: I have more power than you so you have to do what I tell you. The average person on the street probably thinks negotiation is a win-lose zero-sum game that forces people to compromise on their essential goals. This book illuminates, through lived experience, how negotiations are actually much more creative and value generating than the traditional fixed pie framework many envision when they're confronted with a negotiation. There is ample room for creativity, humor, empathy, insight, and number crunching in a negotiation -- which means that most meaningful negotiations are not easy.
The stories in this volume also led me to another realization: the lessons about how to negotiate are amazingly consistent across the cases in the book. I never would have guessed that lessons drawn from a hostage negotiation would be relevant to what happens in a business negotiation, but Josh is able to connect the dots. That, and the other takeaways from this work, show clearly that Josh has made a huge contribution to the field of negotiation.