The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted Professor Robert Mnookin tonight. Professor Mnookin took on Roger Fisher’s former role as the head of the Harvard Negotiation Project. As we all know, Roger Fisher’s book Getting to Yes is THE preeminent text on negotiations. In Mnookin’s words tonight about Getting to Yes, “It’s probably sold more than the New Testament.” Quite big shoes to fill, but Mnookin is up to it.
We have discussed difficult negotiation situations in class before. My take was that if your values and goals are so diametrically opposed, negotiation might not get you anywhere. My example was Lord Voldemort. He’s so committed to his evil agenda, it really does create a zero-sum game. You are bargaining with the Devil and damned, or you go your own way to fight for good.
Life is not so Manichaean. Zero-sum games seldom exist. Although we think we see them everywhere, they are chimerical. Professor Mnookin reminds us that demonization, tribalism and zero-sum thinking thwart the best outcomes. However, while Roger Fisher would have us always negotiate whether our opponent were the Devil or not, Mnookin will not make categorical statements. To him, the answer varies with the situation based on interests and perceived advantage. If there is any doubt, Mnookin seems to veer toward negotiation, much like his predecessor.
Mnookin’s presentation tonight was a walk through his book. He only departed from the book to respond to questions at the end. Therefore, those who read his most recent publication have not missed a thing. Of the most recent events at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, I would say this was the one with the least added value, as it was an overview of something you can read on your own. He was fairly loyal to his text. If you don’t have time or money, if you want more than the text and a lot of interaction, I would recommend the programs that are not about selling new books. I would add that Professor Mnookin was quite available for those who wanted to speak with him before the program. For the fan, that reason alone makes it worth it.