Article | Negotiation Journal | April 2011

What Can We Learn from 'Great Negotiations'?

by James K. Sebenius


What can one legitimately learn-analytically and/or prescriptively-from detailed historical case studies of "great negotiations," chosen more for their salience than their analytic characteristics or comparability? Taking a number of such cases compiled by Stanton (2010) as a point of departure, this article explores this question, highlighting the limits of such historical accounts but observing that they can (1) bring to light complex realities and subtleties that parsimonious analytic models may neglect; (2) suggest overlooked, non-obvious aspects of the process that merit deeper, more systematic study, especially where they appear to contradict received theory; and/or (3) reinforce the findings of more systematic investigations, giving greater confidence in their validity. Learning from such accounts calls for a "Bayesian" mindset, in which a given case study, of the kind produced by Stanton, constitutes a multidimensional observation to be compared and combined with substantial "prior" knowledge and reliable bodies of research.

Keywords: Learning; International Relations; History; Agreements and Arrangements; Negotiation Process; Conflict and Resolution;


Sebenius, James K. "What Can We Learn from 'Great Negotiations'?" Negotiation Journal 27, no. 2 (April 2011).