December 08, 2005


How to Negotiate Like a Child: Unleash the Little Monster Within to Get Everything You Want.  By Bill Adler, Jr.  AMACOM.  $17.95.

     It is Bill Adler’s thesis that everyone has an inner brat and that said brat can be used effectively to win at negotiations and succeed in business.

     Thank goodness this book is written at least partly tongue-in-cheek.  We have far too many adult children in business already.

     Adler is a book packager by profession.  Give him credit for knowing what the market wants and how to package it.  People want simple solutions that don’t really require them to learn anything new, presented with punch and attitude in books that are not too long (this one runs 161 pages).  Studying, working hard, networking and analyzing situations carefully are far less interesting than throwing temper tantrums, crying, winning through sympathy and winning through cuteness – some of the techniques Adler recommends here.  Again, to be sure, there is a tongue-in-cheek quality to the book, but that tongue is not too firmly planted.  Consider: “Make Weak Promises” is one Adler suggestion.  He draws attention to kids’ promises to care for a dog if the family gets one and to clean up a room after bedtime – promises both child and parents know will not be kept, but ones in which “hope nearly always triumphs over experience.”  Adler explains how this works in the book business, his area of expertise: an author promises a celebrity endorsement to get a contract, and does indeed try to get in touch with a celebrity; no endorsement is forthcoming; but the publisher always thought it was a long shot, and by the time the “no” arrives, “the book contract is already signed and the book has taken up a slot in the fall release schedule.”  Adler then shows how to use the weak promise to get what you want, while saving face by having a not-too-unreasonable backup to turn to when the original promise cannot be kept.  How tongue-in-cheek is all this?  Not very.

     And that is the way the whole book goes.  Kids will cry anywhere, to get anything, writes Adler, so why shouldn’t adults?  “When you cry, the person with whom you are negotiating will have to break stride and deal with your crying. …The tone and substance of the negotiations will no longer be under the control of that individual; you will be in charge.”

     And so it goes, page after page – ideas about underhanded techniques for succeeding in business, presented with just enough humor to give Adler plausible deniability if anyone accuses him of cheapening discourse and undermining workplace ethics.  “Who, me?”  Adler can say.  “I was only kidding around.”  Don’t you believe it: it’s the same sort of thing a child says after injuring another.  The injury is no less real, and the lie compounds rather than forgives it.  You just have to see through it; that’s all.

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