Negotiation book review – Fight! Fight!

As the official magazine of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, Supply Management experiences both the positives and the negatives of that role. On the positive side, a ready-made circulation, mailing list and maybe even readership where people bother to take it out of its plastic bag. On the negative, a caution in expressing any strong opinions or ‘taking sides’ in disputes, in case someone – a CIPS member or potential advertiser – is upset.

So it’s a bit of a shock to come across something like the book review in the current issue. It covers  Jonathan O’Brien’s Negotiation for Purchasing Professionals, and it is shocking because it is a hatchet job par excellence.  The wielder of the metaphorical weapon is Stephen Ashcroft of Brian Farrington Ltd, himself a well known and respected figure in the procurement world, as is O’Brien. Ashcroft has even written the odd guest post here, I like him and he’s always seemed pretty laid back, so it was a surprise to see this.

He also runs negotiation training courses, so perhaps there is a bit of competitive tension going on here, but he is certainly well-positioned to understand the issues – and he really didn’t like the book. He has a pop at O’Brien for claiming originality.

The author claims “most of the models and concepts in this book are new and original work; many are ground breaking”. The author is not lacking in self-belief, self-promotion and there is a push for his planning tool.

Ashcroft then criticises the four phase negotiation approach, and for missing out on some latest theories. The final rating is a meagre 1 star – almost unheard of for a Supply Management review.

Now I gave the book four stars*,  so I can’t agree with Ashcroft, even though I accept some of his points – I’m not sure there is a whole host of absolutely new thinking, but I felt O’Brien had pulled a lot of relevant material together and added some of his own interpretation and processes, making it all relevant and useful for the procurement audience. Ironically, the element Ashcroft liked most was probably my least favourite, that around psychology.

But overall I do recommend the book. And I’d make the genuine suggestion to Ashcroft, an author himself, that he should write a negotiation book, if he can see a lot that is missed here.

In some ways though, it is good to see a bit of controversy, as the procurement industry tends to be a little self-referential at times. And if it is any comfort to O’Brien, my friend who first pointed this out to me said this;  “I haven’t read this book (although I will get a copy now...”).  So remember Jonathan, all publicity is good publicity!

 *I did once give a book no stars once in a review, in the days when I wrote for Supply Management before they banned me for “being a competitor”. The previous editor asked me to increase that to one star – but that was a book by a US self-help guru rather than a fellow procurement professiona so I didn’t feel too bad about my verdict!

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Voices (6)

  1. Mark Hubbard:

    I notice Mr. Ashcroft is a provider of training in negotiation to CIPS; interesting that a chartered institute should feel that it is acceptable to use its paid for subscriptions to attempt to damage valid competition to its own courses. I can’t imagine how that would play out in, say, the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

  2. bitter and twisted:

    I disagree. We don’t need balanced reviews – we need intelligent reviews.

    1. Final Furlong:

      Mmmmm. Define ‘intelligent’ when referring to book reviews. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘representative’ rather than balanced….

  3. Final Furlong:

    Supply Management should choose senior practitioners – not competitors – to review these books. Equally, individuals, if asked to review a competitor’s product, need to be ethical and state that they are conflicted (and especially if they are providing services in relation to negotiation training). We need to see balanced views (remember SM’s broad readership) and it is clear from the review that this hasn’t been provided.

    1. Phoenix:

      I have to say I’m with my friend B&T. Surely when academic papers receive ‘peer reviews’ they are, in effect, reviews by competing academics, who will sometimes be scathing, but also (occasionally) ‘intelligent’. I’m all for reading people’s views, as long as I know who they are and, therefore, have a frame of reference for them.

      Signed Phoenix (not my real name)

  4. bitter and twisted:

    It reads like a hatchet job. It may well be that the 4-phase model is garbage and that Ekman, Rawson, et al. are wise beyond compare…. but youd expect a reviewer to present a proper argument, not just bald assertions.

    Alternative hypothesis: Ashcroft wrote a proper (but scathing) review, and a SM sub-editor butchered it.

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