Negotiation Tips from the Undersecretary for Thugs

Bill Richardson
Source: studio8denver

Whatever you make of Bill Richardson's politics, he can tell a good story and seems to enjoy it immensely. In fact, How to Sweet-talk A Shark seems to be less the book on negotiating techniques it claims to be and more an excuse to tell some hilarious and hair-raising tales from Richardson's time in public service. That said, one does pick up a few pointers: it is almost always better to be talking than not talking, don't ask for an answer from someone who can't give it to you, and if most people agree with you, you can throw a tantrum and get what you want. This last piece of wisdom is demonstrated by a trip to North Korea that turned into a hostage negotiation. Richardson points out that he managed to embarrass the Kim government into acquiescing to his demands because the whole world was watching. Personally, I think that tantrums may be the only language North Korean leaders understand as they use them so often, but that is beside the point. There are other useful tidbits for negotiating with the irrational and stubborn, like setting the tone, appealing to ego, and getting to yes and getting out the door.

Kevin Bleyer (Me the People, Or, One Man's Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America), Richardson's co-writer, does an excellent job of editing his stories (even the governor himself admits to being loquacious) and adding the extra bit of humor. I laughed out loud at the chapter on Hosni Mubarak's head torturer, and smiled pretty broadly through the rest of the book. Richardson occasionally feels the need to defend himself on some issues, such as endorsing Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008, but in general I recommend this book to anyone who wants a breezy guide to the world's trouble spots and doesn't mind learning a thing or two along the way.

Bill Richardson also has an autobiography, Between Worlds, written as a warm-up to his presidential bid in 2008 and it has a similar if more serious tone.

Robert Young Pelton's the World's Most Dangerous Places while somewhat out of date, this travel guide for the suicidally adventurous may make you glad to stay home.

Game Change by Richard Heileman. If you're interested in what happened in the 2008 presidential race after Richardson bowed out, this dishy account may be right up your alley.