7 Inspiring Lessons from Best Negotiators in the World

Who is the best negotiator? And what can you learn from them?

Wondering what the best strategy for your upcoming deal is?  Looking for inspiration? Learn from the best! Read and find out what we can learn from businessmen and former presidents from all over the world to close better deals today.

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The best negotiator – 7 inspiring stories

1: Warren Buffett

With an estimated wealth of $85.3 billion he has made no enemies and can drive around freely in his modest 2006 Cadillac XTS without a security detail. Being extremely successful and well-liked by all is a super rare combination and one that is worth studying and learning.

Mr. Buffett is well known for doing his homework. He never relies on past experiences or sheer intuition, he studies. He has said his favorite activity is sitting in a quiet space, reading, studying. Many experienced negotiators are often under-prepared; instead, they rely almost exclusively on history and their “gut”. This often backfires. Mr. Buffett knows that every negotiation is different, even if the negotiating parties are the same. He never trusts his past success to guarantee future success. This is very rare and admirable—and wise.

What can we learn from Warren: 

  • Your integrity is very important:  Warren Buffet is quoted as saying to Goldman Sachs employees, “I won’t fire you if you lose money, but I will if you lie.”
  • Manage to stay humble!
  • Finally, stay willing to take advice as well as give it. 

2: William Ury

When you’re the co-founder of the Harvard Program of Negotiation and also a distinguished fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project, it’s hard to keep a low profile.

Over the years, William Ury has become known as one of the biggest & best negotiators in the world. He has stepped in to settle all kinds of feuds, from disputes between corporate conglomerates to international conflicts in the Middle East.  He’s been seen around at the White House a fair bit and he offers his expertise and training to a huge range of professionals, including business executives, business leaders, military officers, and corporate organizations.

What can we learn from William: 

  • The skill to negotiate is often broader than you expect: you can apply the skill in different sectors and situations
  • Try to learn as soon as possible how to negotiate with persons from other cultures. Our article about how people around the globe negotiate will help you to learn more.  
  • Finally, like William, always aim for the highest! 

3: Herb Cohen

For more than three decades, Herb Cohen has been a practicing negotiator, intimately enmeshed in some of the world’s headline dramas from hostile takeovers to hostage negotiations. His clients have included business executives, entrepreneurs, sports and theatrical agents plus large corporations – as well as governmental agencies, such as the Department of State, FBI, CIA, The US Conference of Mayors, and US Department of Justice.

Unlike some theorists, he was actively involved in the negotiations that settled the NFL players’ strike and the General Motors Chevy mobile litigation and also participated in the START Arms Control Negotiations with the Soviet Union. He started formally teaching the subject of negotiations during a two-week course for attorneys in 1963 sponsored by Allstate Insurance Company. It was then he first used the terms “Win-Win. Win-Lose, Lose-Lose”. 

What can we learn from Herb: 

  • Make sure you keep up to date with the latest theory & negotiation trends but never stop negotiating yourself
  • Follow your heart: Herb used his skills to support groups he had sympathy for
Editor’s note:

The Data-Driven Procurement Certificate program teaches you the skills needed to drive better, fact-based decisions that ultimately benefit both organizations and its employees. As a data-driven procurement manager, you will have a comprehensive analytics skill set that will enable you to replace gut feeling with crystal clear analysis and help to achieve deals with results you have been dreaming of.

4: Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt is well known for many things; his “Citizen in a Republic Speech” is one of the most famous in American history. He also famously delivered a 90-minute speech soon after he was shot by an innkeeper in 1912. “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose,” he reassured his audience, referring to the name of his Progressive independent party.

Roosevelt was just that – as stubborn as a bull moose, unwilling to budge on the issues that were important to him. He also was famed for his soft side – in fact, his act of mercy toward a wounded black bear on a hunting trip made him the subject of jokes in the press and led to the creation of the “Teddy Bear.”

What can we learn from Theodore: 

  • Pick your battles: try to move as little as possible on variables that are important for your negotiation outcome
  • Show compassion in the dealmaking process, especially in negotiations between parties that have a long-term relationship. Tip 2 in our article ‘how to become a procurement gamechanger could help you to understand this better

5: Henry Kissinger

Members of the Nixon administration will go down in history for many things, but few of them are positive. Henry Kissinger, however, is the notable exception. In his capacity of Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to both the Nixon Administration and Ford Administration, Kissinger weathered adversity and came out on top. From establishing diplomatic relations with China to diffusing geopolitical tensions with the Soviet Union, his actions ushered in peace in a time of American discord.

The world’s best negotiators altered the course of global history, whether through toppling evil governments or preventing potential war. Though we may not think about it often, these negotiators prevented bloodshed and ushered in eras of peace, both in America and around the world.

What we can learn from Henry:

  • Invest in your relationship with clients: people negotiate, not companies!
  • Switch between zooming in and out during your negotiation: this was one of the top tricks of Henry Kissinger to achieve his deals

6: Nelson Mandela 

The late Nelson Mandela will certainly be remembered as one of the best negotiators in history. He was “the greatest negotiator of the twentieth century,” wrote Harvard Law School professor and Program on Negotiation Chairman Robert H. Mnookin.
In his chapter on Mandela, Mnookin cites Mandela’s patience, tenacity, pragmatism, and strategic thinking: “He rejected the simple-minded notion that one must either negotiate with the Devil or forcibly resist. He did both. He was willing to make concessions, but not about what was most important to him. With respect to his key political principles, he was unmovable.”

What we can learn from Nelson:

  • Keep the end in mind and keep your patience: it took Nelson Mandela decades to achieve his goals
  • Make concessions in order to achieve your wanted outcome of the negotiation

7: Chris Voss


“It’s not me bringing emotion in; it’s already there, It’s the elephant in the room. There’s this monstrous creature in the middle of every negotiation: It’s what we want, and it’s based on what we care about. Each one of us, we make every single decision based on what we care about, and that makes decision-making, by definition, an emotional process.”
Voss spent more than two decades in the FBI, during which he worked on more than 150 international hostage cases. Eventually, he was chosen among thousands of agents to serve as the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator–a position he held for four years.
Voss fine-tuned his negotiation methods over the years, allowing him to save hundreds of lives. For example, Voss recalled one day in 1998, standing in a narrow hallway outside an apartment in Harlem in New York City. Three heavily armed fugitives were inside. Voss’s job: convince the fugitives to give up without a fight and with no telephone number to call, Voss was forced to speak through the apartment door. He did so for six hours, with no response. He began to question if anyone was even inside. Suddenly, the door opened. A woman walked out, followed by all three fugitives.  Not a single shot fired. No loss of life. Not even a harsh word. How did he do it? Using what he describes as his “late-night FM DJ voice,” Voss repeated variations of the following: “It looks like you don’t want to come out. It seems like you worry that if you open the door, we’ll come in with guns blazing. It looks like you don’t want to go back to jail.” 

Afterward, Voss was curious as to what specifically convinced the fugitives to emerge. 

“We didn’t want to get caught or get shot, but you calmed us down,” they said. “We finally believed you wouldn’t go away, so we just came out.”  This story perfectly illustrates the value of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions.

That’s why many people consider him the best negotiator in the world.

What we can learn from Chris: 

  • No person on earth is capable to close a deal only based on ratio
  • Your understanding of  Psychology and interrelational contact has a great impact on deal results. Learn more in our article about this subject

Best negotiator – conclusion

These top-notch negotiators each have their own style. And that’s for a reason. You should learn from the best, but always pay attention to your own preferences and personality. Want to learn more about negotiating? Discover our Negotiation Certificate Program by clicking the blue button on the top of this page.

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