Famous Negotiators: Herb Cohen’s negotiating career

Katie Cook


by Katie Cook

 Herb Cohen Negotiate Anything


I am a late-comer to watching the HBO series Silicon Valley. Having recently moved to the Bay Area I am now naturally more curious about what it’s all about and understand more of the humor.  However, there are certainly things I still need to google.  When Herb Cohen was mentioned as a famous negotiator, I decided to see what it was that earned him that title.  

Here are three things that set Cohen apart.

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  1. Experience and a wide variety of negotiating situations.

Cohen’s negotiation career has spanned across many industries and his clients have included business executives, large corporations and governmental agencies.  A few of the most notable negotiations that he was involved in were negotiations during:

  • the Iran Hostage Crisis (1979 - 1981 when more than 60 American diplomats were taken hostage by Islamic Revolutionaries - http://ow.ly/SPaAq,
  • those that settled the NFL’s Football Player’s Strike in 1982, http://ow.ly/SPaHx and
  • the START Arms Control Negotiations with the Soviety Union, http://ow.ly/SPaLH.
  1. He was a deeply reflective individual, and he made sure he understood his own perceptions and background and what influenced himself and others, so that he could better understand others with whom he was negotiating.

He laments that in his career he had come across many professional negotiators that were superficial and not in tune with their own communities or even themselves.  He is of the view that “the greatest loss in life is not via death, but what we allow to die inside us while we go on living.”  To avoid this happening he encourages others to get in touch with their inmost selves by immersing themselves in stories espousing deep human values such as “Casablanca” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

He also has researched and written papers on ideologies that influence how people are willing to negotiate, such as “Understanding Islam”, http://ow.ly/SPaWA.

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  1. He had specific ideas about how to relate to others during a negotiation

Some of the most interesting among these ideas were related to what causes a person to change his or her mind.  Cohen was of the view that arguments and debate were ineffective in modifying a person’s position.  Instead, he thought persuasion was more likely to come from creatively altering a person’s way of looking at things.  

An example of this is where he critiqued Jimmy Carter’s handling of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  He explained that Carter, by making it known just how concerned those in the American administration were for the hostages, had created the perception that Americans were “anxious buyers”.  Cohen’s view was that the Iranians had become less eager to negotiate than they otherwise would have been had they not perceived this strong concern of the Americans.

Cohen also was of the view that integrity was important in the negotiating process.  Inspiring other’s trust in you as the negotiator is vital in convincing them to engage in the process with you and doing so through maintaining genuine integrity is essential.

What do you think?  What qualities do you think are essential for being a good negotiator?  Who are your favorite negotiators?  Does there have to be a “winner”?

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About the author

Katie Cook

Katie Cook

Katie Cook is Director of Marketing, Communications and Legal Standards at ContractRoom. Originally from the east coast of Australia, she has a background as an Attorney having practiced in both public and private practice in Brisbane and Melbourne. Katie completed studies in journalism and is now combining her legal and writing skill sets in her role.

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