Kissinger – The Negotiator

A number of articles and books have examined Henry Kissinger (one-time USA National Security Advisor and Secretary of State) and commented on his negotiation performance. 

In a review essay in the **Negotiation Journal some useful observations are made on a book (see below) which examined some of Kissinger’s major negotiation efforts.

In précis, the important takeaways listed are as follows.

1. Negotiation is almost never between two parties. Even when it seems there are only two parties there are always other parties surrounding the negotiation to be analysed and ‘used’. So, ‘multi-party dexterity’ is a must.

2. Almost no negotiations are ‘one-shot deals’. Negotiation almost always involves some form of repeat or iterative interaction. It is foolhardy not to think about what comes ‘after’ the agreement (if there is one). Who will be satisfied? Who will want revenge?

3. ALL negotiations require planning and strategic thinking before they begin. Every negotiation has a ‘before’, as well as a ‘during,’ and an ‘after’. (ENS International has a special negotiation strategy preparation template available for ENSI alumni.)

4. Planning is both substantive and personal. Focus on your counterparts—know in depth who you are dealing with.

5. Taking a higher order view is also important for almost every negotiation. How is this negotiation situated in any longer-term plan for what needs to be accomplished. What is the sought-after ‘long-game’ or goal? Good negotiators think strategically beyond the moment and beyond any particular move or tactic.

6. What are all the ‘deal/no deal’ options? Whatever we call this analysis, BATNA, WATNA, ATNA or MLATNA (‘most likely alternative to a negotiated agreement’), or more simply our ENSI BAE (‘best alternative elsewhere’ or Plan B) it always is important to do this analysis.

7. All negotiations are dynamic. While thinking strategically, be prepared to act ‘opportunistically’ as events, facts and situations change – sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly.

8. Be hardworking, patient, persistent and either be very smart or surround yourself with very smart advisors.

9. Think a lot about what the other side wants and says. You never learn much by talking – listening, both empathetically and substantively is one of the most important aspects of negotiation.

Readers interested in obtaining a full copy of this article please contact ENS International at

** Review essay edited as ‘Deconstructing Henry: Negotiation Lessons from Kissinger’s Career’ in 35(3) Negotiation Journal 337-361 (2019) by Carrie Menkel-Meadow examining Sebenius, Burns Mnookin’s book Kissinger The Negotiator: Lessons from Dealmaking at the Highest Level. New York: HarperCollins, 2018.
ENS Team
ENS Team

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