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
2700 Virginia Ave NW, Suite 111
Washington, DC 20037
Herb Cohen: Master Negotiator
The 700 Club
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.
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, youre 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 Herbs 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
Herbs negotiating strategies come out of his parents admonition,
"Now. Herbert, if you treat people nice,
They will treat you nice." Since 1963 hes 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 dont know" when you dont know
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 dont 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 Herbs
morality, it did offend his propriety. But because it was only a proprietary
disagreement, the boy wore his jeans.
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