The Negotiator Magazine
Back to Index Page:
Reader's Review
John Baker

Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People
By G. Richard Shell
286pp. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
Paperback Edition: (US) $15.00

Richard G. Shell is Professor of Legal Studies and Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Academic Director of the Wharton Executive Negotiation Workshop. Recognized by Business Week magazine as one of outstanding business school professors in the United States, Professor Shell has taught negotiations to business, non-profit and government leaders from around the world. This book is the product of his experience in consulting and teaching as well as over two decades of exploring negotiations literature. Its aim is identify the best "...ideas and approaches that dependably help people achieve superior results at the bargaining table" (p. xiii). It is a significant goal and one that the author accomplishes with skill, clarity and patience.

Professor Shell begins his work by arguing that attempts to simplify negotiations into win-win or win-lose formulas as "...single, one-size-fits-all strategies" do not work (p. xii). " ... All-purpose strategies are an illusion," he concludes. "Experienced negotiators know that there are too many situational and personal variables for a single strategy to work in all cases"(p. xii).

Most experienced negotiators that would agree with that view. Then, of course, what?

The answer, according to Professor Shell, is in what he calls "Information-Based Bargaining" (p. xv) and that is the subject of this book. This approach "...treats each situation and person as unique" (p. xv).

With that as preface, the author leads us into an exploration of the array of elements that comprise the process of negotiations. It is a thorough examination of the art, designed to prepare the reader to understand and effectively operate in any negotiating situation.

Combining a gift for entertaining and illustrative examples from his experience with extensive and well-documented research, Professor Shell creates a negotiations guide filled with practical advice. This review can only touch upon a few of its topics. It is truly a comprehensive tutorial on the field.

Professor Shell begins his exploration of negotiating with a brief, but important examination of differing personality types that readers will find valuable in assessing their own approaches to negotiations as well as the styles of those they may encounter across the table. "If you don't know what your instincts and intuition will tell you to do under different conditions, you will have a great deal of trouble planning effective strategies and responses" (p. 8). It is true and valuable advice with a real and immediate pay-off for the negotiator.

If we need to know ourselves, of course, we also want to know what practices effective skilled negotiators share in common. Professor Shell identifies four such practices: willingness to prepare; high expectations, patience to listen; and commitment to personal integrity (p.15). An exploration of these practices and qualities forms the core of this work.

Within this broader frame rest the specific elements that combine to create the negotiation process itself. Advice on managing each of them is careful and valuable. We will briefly note three of the many negotiation components that the reader will find developed in this book: setting goals, finding shared goals among the parties and opening and concession strategies.

The effective negotiator is always faced with setting reasonable goals for each negotiation. "What you aim for determines what you get," Professor Shell tells the reader. Certainly this is true, but why? He explains carefully the importance of high expectations based on solid research translated into concrete goals and pursued with real commitment to their achievement.

As we prepare to set goals, Professor Shell examines how reasonable expectations may be determined, the role played by concepts such as "the consistency principle" in suggesting legitimate standards and the dangers inherent in the process. He warns against the possibility of becoming entrapped into lowering expectations by allowing your bottom line to become a reference point during negotiations. He alerts his reader to other psychological traps such as representations of presumed "authority" requirements by other negotiators. It is good and solid advice.

A second area of exploration presents the reader with the question of why negotiators so frequently miss opportunities to reach common and greater goals in the negotiation process itself. Why is the pie that might have been expanded no larger at the end of some negotiations? Why is the agreement not consummated when doing so is truly in the interests of both of the parties?

To answer these questions, Professor Shell begins by introducing some basic research. Citing a study of English negotiation professionals by Rackham and Carlisle, the reader encounters some valuable findings that promise to lead to the answer. Based on an analysis of preparation sessions by fifty-one experienced negotiators over fifty-six sessions, the research compared the planning by negotiators rated as highly skilled with planning conducted by negotiators rated as average in their skills.

Although both groups spent most of their planning time on their own goals, there was a wide difference in how the two groups allocated their total time. The skilled negotiators spent 40 percent of their time on shared or complementary interests between the parties. The average negotiators spent only 10 percent of their planning time on this area (p.80). Not surprisingly, therefore, "the skilled negotiators developed about twice the number of possible settlement options ... as did the less skilled group ...."(p.81). Obviously, we are onto something important here and the author leads his reader into a solid examination of the process.

The last of these areas we shall touch upon is that often debated issue of who should go first in opening and the inevitable associated matter of concession strategy. "When I first started teaching negotiation," the author tells us, "I recommended the 'never open' rule to my classes" (p.159). Today, however, he notes, he has come to a new position on the matter. "Should you open? Sometimes," he writes, and then proceeds to explain why.

You will find it a valuable exploration of opening strategies and a lead into his advice on concession moves.

This is a book is filled with excellent advice on a myriad of negotiation topics.

A first rate work for the new negotiator and a valuable reference for any negotiator working to enhance their knowledge and skills in the field.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.
Editor

As a service to our readers, you may order this month's Review's Review selection by clicking on the appropriate icon below:

Bargaining for Advantage [Amazon.com]

Bargaining for Advantage [Amazon.co.uk]


Back to Index Page:
Copyright ©2003, The Negotiator Magazine