Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Winter 2015


Michael Wheeler's The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World stands on the shoulders of a number of previous books on negotiation by Wheeler's colleagues in the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (PON), and others, but not because it needs their support. Instead, The Art of Negotiation illuminates the principal models in such books, by showing why, when, and how to improvise in relation to them. Some standard models of negotiation seem static, Wheeler tells us, whereas negotiation mastery requires dealing with the ‘inherent uncertainty‘ of almost any negotiation, and that calls for improvisation, which often means taking leave, at least briefly, from a particular model of negotiation, combining elements of more than one model, or reconsidering your objectives or your plan for reaching them. He makes a compelling case and provides engaging and edifying examples, along with guidelines not only from negotiation but also from social science, improvisational jazz, and military training. The Art of Negotiation is crystal clear and suffused with insight, grace, and humor. It makes a grand contribution to the negotiation literature. I expect and hope that it will influence negotiation teaching, training and scholarship.

This Review Essay describes the book, introduces a new system for understanding models of negotiation, and uses it to explain and expand upon some of the ideas in The Art of Negotiation. Then it suggests a different title for Wheeler's book, and describes recent efforts to connect improv with negotiation and mediation training and practice. I mean to honor Wheeler's important work by extending it.