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Understanding Your Negotiating Partner


The indispensable key to Abraham’s successful negotiation with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah was his ability to understand his partner on the “other side of the table.”

Here’s a classic illustration. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt tried to run for a third presidential term. He was about to set off on a cross-country whistle-stop tour. To woo voters, he planned to distribute three million copies of a pamphlet with one of his famous speeches and a photo of himself on the cover.

After the pamphlets had been printed, his campaign staff noticed the words under the photograph: Moffet Studio, Chicago. Unauthorized use of the picture would cost the campaign a dollar per copy! Time did not permit reprinting the pamphlet with a different photo. Sure that the struggling photographer would demand a king’s ransom for use of the picture, the campaign staff agonized over approaching Moffet.

The matter rose to George Perkins, Roosevelt’s campaign manager, who quickly sent Moffet the following cable:

“We are planning to distribute millions of pamphlets with Roosevelt’s picture on the cover. It will be great publicity for the studio whose photograph we use. How much will you pay us to use yours? Respond immediately.” Moffet cabled back: “We’ve never done this before, but under the circumstances we’d be pleased to offer you $250.”[1]

[1] Quoted in James K. Sebenius, “Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators,” Winning Negotiations (Harvard Business Review, Perseus Books Group, Kindle ed. April 12, 2011), Kindle loc. 1912. The story has appeared without attribution to a source in numerous books and articles about negotiation. The source of the vignette is Oscar King Davis, Released for Publication (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1925), 341. Davis worked on Roosevelt’s campaign and was present when Perkins penned the telegram.



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