Book Review

I was thinking about Niccolo Machiavelli while reading Beyond Reason, which tries to teach techniques for controlling emotions while negotiating.

Machiavelli, who wrote provocatively about the use of power, might have approved of the authors’ goals, but not the means by which they should be achieved.

Negotiating, of course, is a big part of a manager’s job. We deal with a boss, employees, peers, technology partners and suppliers. And while bringing passion to work is an attribute, letting emotion erupt in a bargaining session could prove fatal to a career, let alone the company. That doesn’t mean, however, you should suppress your feelings. In Beyond Reason, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, who are respectively the director and associate director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, argue that effective negotiations are the result of generating positive emotions and dealing with negative ones.

“Our advice is not to inhibit positive emotions but rather to check with your head and your gut before making decisions,” they write. “Before committing to an agreement, check that it satisfies your interests. Draw on standards of fairness. Know each person’s alternative to a negotiated settlement, and use that information wisely.”

Their techniques include the old “put yourself in the other person’s shoes” chestnut. But they also advise readers how to make the other side feel their positions are appreciated, and how to turn an adversary into a colleague. Perhaps most important, they urge being prepared for negative reactions during discussions by having alternative plans (and taking deep breaths.)

“You often have the power to break out of your current mood rather than be a prisoner to it,”they write, by simply having a good night’s sleep maintaining a calm, confident mood.

The authors also drop a few anecdotes about arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, playing a part in easing tension in the Iran hostage crisis and being of help in a union-management struggle. On the other hand, some of their suggested conversations are stilted and verge on being politically correct. Get past these and the book can be rewarding.

Be fair? Make others feel appreciated? Machiavelli, who wrote that it’s safer for a ruler to be feared than respected, wouldn’t have understood. Different time, thankfully.

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