Book Notes

“You Can Negotiate Anything”, Herb Cohen

What is negotiation? It is the use of information and power to affect behavior within a “web of tension.”

Three crucial elements of negotiation

  • Information. The other side seems to know more about you and your needs than you know about them and their needs.
  • Time. The other side doesn’t seem to be under the same kind of organizational pressure, time constraints, and restrictive deadlines you feel you’re under.
  • Power. The other side always seems to have more power and authority than you think you have.

Politics, poker, or negotiation—you must realistically analyze the other side’s position, as well as your own, in light of three ever-present tightly interrelated variables.

All power is based on perception. If you think you’ve got it, then you’ve got it. If you think you don’t have it, even if you have it, then you don’t have it. In short, you have more power if you believe you have power and view your life’s encounters as negotiations.

Your ability to negotiate determines whether you can or can’t influence your environment.

It’s analyzing information, time, and power to affect behavior

Almost everything is negotiable

Whether you do or don’t negotiate anything should be strictly up to you, based on your answers to the following questions:

  • Am I comfortable negotiating in this particular situation?
  • Will negotiating meet my needs?
  • Is the expenditure of energy and time on my part worth the benefits that I can receive?

Techniques mentioned

  • “The nibble”
  • “We don’t understand”

Don’t rush to prove your intellect at the outset of an encounter. Watch your listen-talk ratio. Learn to ask questions, even when you think you might know the answers.

Making the ultimatum stick

For your ultimatum to succeed, it must meet four criteria:

  • Frosting on the cake. The other side must have no other choice or they must have such an investment that they can’t fold their cards and walk away. Therefore, an ultimatum must come at the end of a negotiation, never at the beginning. You can’t frost a cake until you bake it.
  • Soft and palatable. The words used must never belittle or offend the other side. “Hard” ultimatums, such as “Take it or leave it!” or “It’s this or else!” are self-defeating. “Soft” ultimatums are palatable because they’re simply a statement of your reality. Example: “I certainly understand your predicament. Your position is valid, but this is all I’ve got. Help me.”
  • A recipe that can’t be tampered with. It’s always wise to back up your final position with some form of documentation or legitimacy
  • Selection from a limited menu.


If you think you can or you can’t, you’re always right.

Henry Ford I

“A prisoner in solitary confinement” story

Believe firmly that you have power, and you’ll convey that self-confident perception to others. It is you who determine how they see, believe, and react to you.

  1. The power of competition

Continuing with the power of competition, is it easier to get a job when you already have one or when you don’t?

  1. The power of legitimacy
  2. The power of legitimacy

In our society, people are conditioned to regard with awe anything printed. Printed words, documents, and signs carry authority. Most people tend not to question them.

  1. The power of risk-taking

Before chancing anything, calculate the odds to determine whether the potential benefits are worth the possible cost of failure. Be rational, not impulsive. Never take a risk out of pride, impatience, or a desire to get it over with.

  1. The power of commitment

the application of the power of commitment of others work for you in three ways:

  • By dispersing the overall risk, you can take advantage of propitious circumstances. Since your associates share the total anxiety and lend their support, your stress level is reduced.
  • The shoulder-to-shoulder dedication of your group transmits awesome power vibrations to the other side.
  1. The power of expertise

Here’s what to do if you want to present yourself as having expertise: Establish your background and credentials early in the confrontation.

Above all, don’t be pretentious. In general the only kind of expertise required for most negotiations is the ability to ask intelligent questions and know whether you are getting accurate responses.

When you are confronted by “The Expert” on the other side of the desk or table, don’t be overimpressed. Keep in mind that if they didn’t need you or what you have to offer, they wouldn’t be there.

Train yourself to occasionally say, “I don’t understand. You lost me three minutes ago.” Or “Can you explain that in layman’s language?” will often change the attitude and behavior of the so-called expert.

  1. The power of the knowledge of “needs”

In all negotiations, there are two things being bargained for:

  • The specific issues and demands, which are stated openly.
  • The real needs of the other side, which are rarely verbalized.
  1. The power of investment

If you have something difficult to negotiate—an emotional issue, or a concrete item that can be stated numerically, such as price, cost, interest rate, or salary-cope with it at the end of a negotiation, after the other side has made a hefty expenditure of energy and a substantial time investment.

You’ll be surprised how the other side’s investment will cause them to become flexible at the end of the negotiation.

  1. The power of rewarding or punishing

If I’m aware of your perceptions and needs, and if I know you think I have power over you, I can control your behavior.

No one will ever negotiate with you in any significant way unless they’re convinced that you can and might help them—or can and might hurt them.

In an adversary relationship, if you think I might help you or hurt you, I should never defuse your perception of my power unless I get something in return, such as a concession on your part, or a repositioning on your part, that truly benefits me or our relationship.

  1. The power of identification

You will maximize your negotiating ability if you get others to identify with you.

More often than people care to admit, identification (whether with or against) plays a significant role in negotiations and decision making. That’s why behaving decently and trying to help others is the equivalent of having a canteen of water in the Gobi Desert.

  1. The power of morality

That’s why, if you lay morality on people in an unqualified way, it may often work. And if you throw yourself on their mercy without defense or pretense there’s a chance they may succumb.

  1. The power of precedent

Don’t act as though your limited experience represents universal truths. Force yourself to go outside your experience by testing your assumptions. Don’t lock yourself into time-worn ways of doing things.

the power of precedent is based on a “Don’t make waves,” “You can’t argue with success,” and “We’ve always done it this way” outlook.

It can be used as an excuse for change. If people at point A do something and people at point B learn about it, it affects the way people at point B act

  1. The power of persistence

Persistence is to power what carbon is to steel.

Most people aren’t persistent enough when negotiating. They present something to the other side, and if the other side doesn’t “buy” it right away, they shrug and move on to something else.

  1. The power of persuasive capacity

We’ve been raised to believe that logic will prevail. Logic, in and of itself, will rarely influence people. Most often logic doesn’t work.

If you want to persuade me to believe something, do something, or buy something, you must rely on three factors:

  1. I have to understand what you’re saying. It’s imperative that you put your reasons into analogies that relate to my experiences, my particular imprinting. In order to do this, you must enter my world. (That’s why it’s so hard for you to negotiate with someone who’s stupid or who you think is a lunatic.)
  2. Your evidence must be so overwhelming that I can’t dispute it.
  3. My believing you must meet my existing needs and desires.

If you want to persuade people, show the immediate relevance and value of what you’re saying in terms of meeting their needs and desires.

  1. The power of attitude

Who’s the worst person you can negotiate for? Yourself.
Because you take yourself too seriously in any interaction that concerns you. You care too much about yourself. T

Train yourself to say in every one of your negotiations, “If everything goes wrong, will my life end?” If the answer to this question is no, teach yourself to say, “Big deal,” “Who cares?” and “So what?” Develop the attitude of caring —but not caring that much. To paraphrase Eugene O’Neill, “This episode is but a strange interlude in the electrical display of God the Father.

If you develop this healthy, somewhat amused, “it’s a game” attitude toward all your negotiation encounters, both on and off the job, three benefits will follow.

  • You’ll have considerably more energy, because you’ll always have energy to do the things you enjoy doing.
  • You’ll be under reduced stress.
  • You’ll get better results, because your attitude will convey your feeling of power and mastery of your life. (You will transmit a confidence indicative of options, and people will start following you.)


Therefore, in any negotiation expect most significant concession behavior and any settlement action to occur close to the deadline. That being the case, if I know your deadline and you don’t know mine, who has the advantage? If you are a literalist about time (you believe it because you saw it in writing) and I’m flexible about time

Deadlines—your own and other people’s—are more flexible than you realize. Who gives you your deadlines?
Always ask yourself, “What will happen if I go beyond the deadline? What is the certainty of the detriment or penalty? What is the extent of the punishment? In short, how great is the risk I’m taking?”

Since most concession behavior and settlements will occur at or even beyond the deadline, be patient. As a general rule, patience pays. It may be that the thing to do, when you do not know what to do, is to do nothing.

In an adversary negotiation your best strategy is not to reveal your real deadine to the other side. The “other side,” cool and serene as they may appear, always have a deadline.

Generally speaking, you cannot achieve the best outcome quickly; you can achieve it only slowly and perseveringly


A negotiation—or any meaningful interaction— isn’t an event, it’s a process.

How to gain information? You start early because the earlier you start, the easier it is to obtain information.

From whom do you glean and gather information? From anyone who works with or for the person, you will meet with during the event or anyone who has dealt with them in the past. This includes secretaries, clerks, engineers, janitors, spouses, technicians, or past customers. Another source of data is your adversary’s competitors, who may well be willing to talk to you about costs. I

“No” is a reaction, not a position. The people who react negatively to your proposal simply need time to evaluate it and adjust their thinking

Remember that change and new ideas are acceptable only when presented slowly in bite-size fragments.

Soviet Style: Winning at all costs

How do you recognize the Soviet style? You distinguish it by the specific behavior of the other side. All “Soviets,” whether from Moscow or from Memphis, use the same six steps in their negotiation dance:

  • Extreme intitial positions. They always start with tough demands or ridiculous offers that affect the other side’s expectation level.
  • Limited authority. The negotiators themselves have little or no authority to make any concessions.

But there’s a flip side to that coin. Never allow yourself —or anyone who negotiates for you—unlimited authority.

  • Emotional tactics. They get red-faced, raise their voices, and act exasperated—horrified that they are being taken advantage of.
  • Adversary concessions are viewed as a weakness. Should you give in and concede to them something, they are unlikely to reciprocate.
  • Stingy in their concessions
  • Ignore deadlines.

For Soviet tactics to work, all three of these criteria must exist:

  • No continuing relationship.
  • No remorse afterward
  • No awareness by the victim. The potential victim must be naive—innocent and unaware—at least momentarily.

How to beat emotional tactics

  • No authority. Make it clear that you would like to help but lack the authority to grant the request. Say, “I’m sorry. The last person who did such a thing was fired and is now a homesteader in the South Bronx.”
  • Legitimacy. Post a sign on the wall that states in effect, WITH THIS SALE THERE WILL BE NO EMBELLISHMENTS.
  • Knowingly laugh. Using a light touch, acknowledge the tactic and praise the customer’s skill in carrying it out so well. You are chuckling with the customer, not laughing at him.

Win-Win Style

Successful collaborative negotiation lies in finding out what the other side really wants and showing them a way to get it, while you get what

To get what you want, you have to encounter opposition. If you have no opponents, it may be that you’re still seated. In essence, you’re not neg

Type of opponents

A. Idea opponents. An idea opponent is one who disagrees with you on a particular issue or alternative. The disparity of misunder-standing is theoretical

B. Visceral opponents. A visceral opponent is an emotional adversary, who not only disagrees with your point of view, but disagrees with you as a human being. He may even attribute sinister or nefarious motives to the position you espouse.

Avoid visceral opposition

  1. Never forget the power of your attitude.

You will recall that I said earlier that negotiation, whether at work or at home, is a game—“Care, but don’t care that much.” Keep saying to yourself over and over, “It’s a game. It’s the world of illusion. A tactic perceived is no tactic. I care, but not that much.”

  1. Never judge the actions and motives of others.

Since you cannot look into someone’s heart or mind, it would seem absurd to believe that you might know what impels or propels them

…such public utterances can offend and do affect face sense. Moreover, these speech habits are hard to break, and they can carry over to other dealings where trust has not yet been established and the sensitivity is greater.

The elimination of this potential problem is very simple. All that has to be done is the substitution of the word “I” instead of “you” in all these messages. By making use of “I” or “me” you can express your personal feelings, reactions, and needs without sitting in judgment.

…“When this room is not tidy I feel depressed, frustrated, and upset.”

Compromise ≠ Win-Win

Unfortunately, many negotiators think that compromise is synonymous with collaboration. It is not. By its very definition, compromise results in an agreement in which each side gives up something it really wanted. It is an outcome where no one fully meets his or her needs.

And it is possible for both sides to get what they want, because no two people are identical in terms of likes or dislikes. Each of us is trying to satisfy our needs, but those needs, like our fingerprints, are different.

Phone negotiating

NB: It’s even worse for messaging

Characteristics of Phone Negotiations:

  1. More misunderstanding. Because visual feedback is lacking..
  2. Easier to say no. It’s effortless and uncomplicated to say no on the phone.
  3. Advantage—caller. In any phone conversation, the person placing the call—the caller—is in a privileged position. The recipient of an unexpected incoming call—the callee—is handicapped.

Taking it personally

The point is that you want to appear as a responsible, suitable, stable, and desirable tenant.

  1. It’s easy for people to shaft others if they don’t see them in personal terms.
  2. Don’t let yourself become a bloodless statistic: a grain of sand that drops through someone’s fingers and vanishes in a floor crack.


You have a role to play in this world—a reason for being here. But it is up to you to find your part and direct your future. Don’t back away from the exercise of power or wait for someone else to act. Of course you can get what you want, but part of what you want should be to help others along the way. The good life is not a passive existence where you live and let live. It is one of involvement where you live and help live.