Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em

Herb Cohen

I’ve been negotiating deals for a living for a long time. It’s my livelihood, but I often feel like a bumbling novice.

Noah and I drove up to Western Michigan this week to facilitate a three cornered transaction—never easy.

While driving we listened to a CD by Herb Cohen, author of the superbly useful and entertaining book, You Can Negotiate Anything, which I recommend to everyone. My wife Risa and I have also attended Cohen’s lectures and Noah interviewed him in Today’s Machining World.

The thrust of his message was that successful bargaining relies on attaining information about the real needs of the other party, and then providing many options for him or her to choose from because you don’t really know the keys to an eventual agreement until you explore several possibilities. Cohen also emphasized that negotiations usually take time and successful ones usually require both sides putting in a significant time investment.

These are concepts I’ve learned and tested—and forgotten. I think most people develop a negotiating style which is “one size fits all.” Unfortunately people come in small to XXXL. You can’t negotiate with a Brazilian the same way you do with a guy from L.A. Clients from South America prefer a long slow tango. In California it’s “let’s get this done.”

The most memorable lesson from listening to Herb Cohen and tossing it around with Noah was that you need to “get out of yourself” to negotiate successfully. You can’t care too much about a particular outcome or you become extremely vulnerable to a shrewd bargainer. This is why people sometimes hire others to negotiate for them. The person who can negotiate without anxiety has a huge advantage over the one who feels like he’s playing with his last chips. If you are negotiating for yourself or your family or your company or organization you need to be able to get comfortable with you own discomfort. How do you do this?

No easy answer except practice, role-playing, coaching, and learning from experience. I like to do a post mortem on negotiations to analyze where I’ve succeeded or left money on the table, or worse, allowed a doable deal to collapse.

Kenny Rogers’ wonderful song, The Gambler, with the famous lyrics “Know When to Hold em, Know When to Fold ‘em,” rings in my head. Today I’ll add this corollary. Know when to go back to school again on the techniques of negotiation that will work for you every day.

Question: What is your best or worst gambling experience?


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2 thoughts on “Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em

  1. Jeff

    Worst gambling expiraince easily was when I was in high school and had to double the pot 3 consecutive times playing Ace’y Duce’y once on 3-King and twice on 2-Ace I had to endource my paycheck form the pizza shop I worked at which was for $475 and throw it in the pile after my cash was gone. At 16 I lost $600+ dollars that night in 15 minutes and it was the last time I ever played that game.


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