“World’s Great Negotiator” Quotes

I recently read “The Adventure of Herbie Cohen: World’s Great Negotiator” by Rich Cohen. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like them, buy the book here.

“He preaches engaged detachment, characterized as “caring, but not that much.”” (7)

“Time heals all wounds, right up to the moment it kills you.” (7)

“He was proving what would become a lifelong principle: most people are schmucks and will obey any type of authority, even if it’s just a nine-year-old in an orange sash.” (15)

“Power is based on perception; if you think you got it, you got it, even if you don’t got it.” (15)

“The glory of Carthage survives in a single story. That’s how history works. It’s not what happened, but what remains when everything else has been forgotten.” (17)

“Herbie has a rule. If you ask him a question, he will tell you the truth. If you ask again, you will again get the truth. But if you ask a third time, he will tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear.” (19)

“Life is a game, and to win, you must consider other people as players with as much at stake as yourself; if not more. If you understand their motivations, you can control the action and free yourself from every variety of jam. Focus less on yourself and more on others. Everyone has something at stake. If you address that predicament, you can move anyone, even a junior high principal, from no to yes.” (22-23)

“Magna Para unintentionally taught Herbie that weakness can be strength, and ignorance, feigned or real, can be the best response to authority.” (33)

“In the real world you have to devise your strategy for the talent you actually have. Don’t bitch. Don’t complain. Just play the cards you’ve been dealt. (51)

“While her own parents were well-mannered and soft-spoken and worried what people would think, Morris and Esther were warm and profane.” (67)

“The Eisenstadts covered the mirrors and said Kaddish when Ellen accepted Herbert’s proposal. They considered it a mixed marriage, frowned upon by the community.” (67) 

“He said the key to his success was settling quickly rather than fighting, overpaying a little instead of going to court and overpaying a lot – negotiation.” (71)

“People loved him in Libertyville, and he loved them right back. He was a character, a small-town celebrity, the sort of oddball you went to with a problem.” (78)

“It was about making the other person feel respected, getting a good deal while letting the other guy feel he’d done the same. Win-win. “And it isn’t because I want to be a good person,” he’d explain. “It’s because I want to be effective. If the other guy walks away feeling bad about what happened, the deal is going to fall apart and you’re going to end up with nothing.” (78)

“Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, tugging at his hat and saying, ‘When you side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal. You’re finished. We’re finished. All of us.” (81)

“If you really want a house, you can’t speed the process by offering the asking price, because the seller will think he has set the price too low and back out.” (97)

“If you don’t remember a person’s name, ask them if they still live in the same place. Don’t ask them about their children, because maybe they have no children. And don’t ask them about their spouse, because maybe that person died. But if you ask them if they still live in the same place, then either they are still living in the same place and are amazed that you remember, or they’ve have moved and think it considerate of you to inquire.” (99)

“Over time, he became less of a business guru than a comedian and a philosopher. He was for something – win-win negotiation. And he was also against something – life as a zero-sum game, meaning if you win, I lose. Herbie wouldn’t want to live that way even if it were true, but it wasn’t. He came to believe just the opposite: our fates are intertwined; the only way for me to win is for you to win, too.” (100)

“No matter the audience, his message was the same: stay detached, don’t become fixated on a particular outcome, care, but not that much. If you approach a negotiation as if it were a game, you’ll have more fun and be more successful. If you approach life as if it were a negotiation, you’ll care less, achieve more, and live longer.” (103)

“By ceding power, you gain power.” (105)

“When it comes to negotiating, you’d be better off acting like you know less, not more. In some cases, dumb is smarter than smart, and inarticulate is better than articulate.” (106)

“You want to train yourself to say, ‘I don’t know’ … ‘You lost me’ … ‘Could you repeat that?’ The most powerful words in business are ‘I don’t understand. Help me.” (106)

“He talked about the art of purchasing big-box items, like refrigerators. Trick one: ask when it goes on sale. Everything is always just about to go on sale. You’ll always get that price. Trick two: ask, “What if?” “What if I buy four refrigerators?” Trick three: point out a blemish on the floor model and ask for a blemish discount. If there is no blemish, create one.” (107)

“A master of telephone negotiation, he explained what to do when everything goes wrong on a call. ‘I’d never recommend hanging up on another person. That would be socially unacceptable. Hang up while you’re talking. How can you convincingly hang up on yourself? Simple. Say the equivalent of ‘Hey, I’m really glad you called. You know, I was just thinking about you yester–’ Click.” (107)

“He told us to go about our work in a methodical and even boring way, to conduct ourselves in the practice exam or scrimmage as if it were the real test or game; that way, when we got there, we’d feel as if we’d already been there a dozen times before. ‘Don’t do anything differently. Make the extraordinary ordinary. That’s the key.’” (113)

“He’d put everything he’d done and learned in that book. And it diminished him. You lose whatever you put on paper. He needed to acknowledge this loss with a dramatic gesture. He needed to put an exclamation point at the end of this chapter of his life.” (116)

“Don’t regard yourself as someone who wants to buy a refrigerator. Regard yourself as someone who wants to sell money. Money is the product that’s up for sale. The more people there are who want your money, the more your money will buy. How do you get people to bid for that money? You generate competition.” (117)

““I make a decision once.” And he’d made his decision about the book. In case of rejection, the only thing that would change was his opinion of the publishing house.” (120)

“A good book title should make a promise.” (123)

“Life is ninety-seven percent marketing. You’re better off with a mediocre product and a great salesman than with a masterpiece and an idiot to sell it.” (124)

“He went into every bookstore he could find, moved his book to the front, the top of the display, then signed every copy – he did this without being asked – beginning each inscription, “Congratulations. Merely by picking up this book, you have demonstrated your intelligence.” (125)

“Unlike other interviewers, Larry King did not care how he came across. He was willing to look silly, even ridiculous, in an attempt to get answers to the sorts of questions a regular person would ask.” (130)

“Herbie dealt with Ellen’s depression in creative ways, the most productive being travel. “If you’re unhappy here, go somewhere else.” He believed two days in a hotel with room service can fix almost anything.” (142)

“He considered the theater a key part of a complete education, a part of life’s curriculum in which his children, having been raised in the sticks, were dangerously deficient. In my first year after college, when I was living on Sixtieth Street in Manhattan, he offered to pay for a ticket to any show I wanted to see for a period of ten months. He called this the Herb Cohen Scholarship.” (146)

“She’d go over each detail again and again, trying to remember the exact wording, the exact moment. If she could just figure it out, she’d understand everything. ‘Sometimes there is nothing to figure out,’ said Herbie.” (148)

“If you work yourself to exhaustion, you won’t have the strength to worry.” (153)

“When people ask if he won or lost, I say “both.” He prevailed, but the process itself became the punishment.” (154)

“It’s funny. He built his book around a philosophy, which he boiled down to a gleaming phrase – “the key to life is to care, but not that much” – but even a cursory study of his behavior will show a man in a constant state of over-caring. You Can Negotiate Anything was a self-help book, and as anyone who has spent time around the authors of such books can tell you, those who write self-help are those most in need of self-help. Their work is a literary version of whistling past the graveyard, talking to themselves in the dark. Herbie’s favorite aphorism defines his behavior more accurately than anything he’s ever said about caring: “If you’re walking on thin ice, you might as well dance.”” (160)

“Endings are sad because most lives seem only partially lived. You always have a feeling there was still more flavor in that gum. That was not the case with Esther. She got every bit of taste out of her piece.” (176)

“When she confronted him – “When are you going to finish your book?” he said, “Ninety-nine percent of deals close within an hour of the deadline.” When she protested – “You’ve already missed the deadline” – he said, “Then it wasn’t really the deadline, was it?”” (179)

“To my eye it looked silly and made us into a laughing stock. When I complained, he said, “They can laugh and we can win. To me, that’s a good trade.”” (179)

“Then told him what he had told his own father in the hospital: “You’ve done great.”

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “All I’ve ever done is what I think my father would have done.”

But maybe that’s all anyone has ever done.” (192)

“Being a productive person means believing you might live forever, that there is a point to all this work and suffering, that some of the achievements might survive, but for those who have leaned over and looked down, such belief becomes exceedingly difficult. To continue on as before, they have to forget what they’ve learned, which seems to take about a year.” (193)

“Everyone in this world believes they got a raw deal, were mistreated, could have made much more of themselves if they’d gotten a fair shake. But almost no one gets what Ellen got – a call telling them they are not crazy but had in fact been right all along.” (212)

“He admonished me, saying, “If you’d done better, you could’ve gone to Yale.”

“No,” I said. “If you’d done better, I could have gone to Yale.” (217)

Liked the quotes? Buy the book here.

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