The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

Herb Cohen

Negotiations advisor to the Carter White House during the Iran Hostage situation and the Reagan Administration during the START talks with Russia

J.D., Law; B.A., Political Science; NYU

Power Negotiations
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Washington, DC 20037


Herb Cohen: Master Negotiator

By The 700 Club

CBN.comEverybody Negotiates

Herb Cohen differentiates between morality and propriety. Matters of morality, like the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, are not negotiable. But proprietary matters, all things that are not moral matters, are negotiable. These are things like how long your child wants to wear his hair or how much you want to pay for your next new car.

And Herb should know. He has been successfully negotiating everything from insurance claims to hostage releases to his own sons’ hair length and hundreds of other matters for over 40 years. It was Herb who, in 1963, coined the term, "win-win" negotiations. It was also Herb who was audited by his employer at the time, Allstate Insurance, because his clients were so happy the company was sure he must be overpaying their claims. Herb convinced company officials that he cut out several steps the company generally insisted upon because he took a realistic look at the claim, the legal and medical proof the claimant had, and then while treating the client fairly, he paid them off without haggling. The company saved in the long run by not spending for court investigations and extra medical exams, the clients believed they were being treated with dignity and respect, and everybody came away a winner; hence, win-win negotiations.

Significant Credits

Herb speaks as easily about advising General Ed Rowney on the Russian missile situation of the early '80s as he does about negotiating with his kids growing up. Herb says he gave advice on how to handle Russia because Americans think of compromise as a good thing. He says Americans fall prey to the thinking that "if you look like me and live and act like me, you’re a nice person like me and we can come to some sort of ‘win-win’ arrangement." The Russians in power at that time saw compromise as a dirty word indicative of weakness, so Herb’s counsel to Reagan was "stay tough, stay strong."

Herb says he has recently given advice to Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell about Mideast dealings because he hates to see American loss of life and realizes that the people with whom the U.S. is dealing view the regard for human life as the worst American weakness. He also says that to NOT stay and finish the job in Iraq will put Americans all over the globe in great peril. He says Middle Easterners will view that as American cowardice. Cohen says American politicians need to realize this whether they agree with the initial reasons for war or not.

Basis of His Strategy

Herb’s negotiating strategies come out of his parents’ admonition, "Now. Herbert, if you treat people nice,

They will treat you nice." Since 1963 he’s been teaching these tips: Listen to the other person, respect his or her position, ask yourself how you can come to terms, and save the toughest item to negotiate until last. Keep your demeanor amicable, and when necessary, admit to what he calls "calculated incompetence." Say, "I don’t know" when you don’t know something.

On Parenting

Herb says kids are the best negotiators for three reasons. First, they aim high. Your child asks you for a $400 toy and is very pleased when he gets a $200 toy. Second, kids appeal to the highest level. If one parent says no, they will go to the other parent. If both parents say no, they will go to grandparents if they think there is a shot of getting what they want there. ("After all, the kids and the grandparents have a common enemy – the parents.") Third, kids don’t take no for an answer. They ask again and again in a variety of ways and intensities.

Of his own family, Herb says his first child got 80 percent of all his parenting, the second got 19 percent, and the third 1 percent because by then he and his wife were tired and worn down from all the previous years of negotiating. He also says things just work out. One child is a federal prosecutor, one chaired the case against the World Trade Center bombers, and the third is a successful writer.

Herb encourages parents that up to the pre-teen years, parents have control of all negotiations, but in the teen years, the parent must negotiate with a great deal more skill. In the pre-teen years, the parent is teaching morality -- "You will do this because it is the right thing." In the teen years, he says propriety issues win the negotiating game much more often because kids are so peer driven during this time. He tells a personal story about how their third son grew up through the fashion trend of jeans with holes. One pair had a hole in the crotch. Though this did not offend Herb’s morality, it did offend his propriety. But because it was only a proprietary disagreement, the boy wore his jeans.

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