Deconstructing Henry: Negotiation Lessons from Kissinger’s Career

Negotiation Journal, Vol. 35, No.3, 2019, Forthcoming

UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2019-41

29 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2019

See all articles by Carrie Menkel-Meadow

Carrie Menkel-Meadow

University of California, Irvine School of Law; Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: August 14, 2019


This review essay (this is the unedited version of the essay to be published in 35 Negotiation Journal 337-361, 2019) reviews the book, Kissinger the Negotiator: Lessons from Dealmaking at the Highest Levels by James Senbenius, Nicholas Burns and Robert Mnookin, (Harper Collins, 2018). The essay uses the book’s trope of a camera lens of “zooming out and zooming in” to analyze different lessons about preparation, the wide scope of negotiations, expanding issues, parties and coalition formation, and the role of personality to assess the concepts developed by the book’s authors in their earlier work (e.g. backward mapping, sequencing, negotiations at and behind the table) and applied to the long career of Henry Kissinger as diplomat, scholar and life-long negotiator and consultant on international relations. The authors provide a useful framework for assessing lessons from one person’s career, summarized in 15 lessons in a final chapter, after providing detailed case studies of many of Kissinger’s most famous (and infamous!) actions as a negotiator (Viet Nam, Southern Africa, the Middle East, détente with Soviet Union, recognition of China). The essay then suggests some limitations of learning too much from one single “charismatic” and ethically questionable negotiator and government official (e.g. role in Chile) and offers some thoughts about how more comparisons with other similarly important diplomatic negotiators (other Secretaries of State, from the Harvard Project on Secretaries of States and others) and other taxonomies of diplomatic negotiations (from diplomacy historians) might have deepened the learning from more comparative study. The book is an excellent application of a method of “applied history” –using present concepts (from Negotiation and conflict theory) to reinterpret and understand past events, with use of hindsight, biographies, memoirs, media coverage and documents studied “after the fact” with useful learning for the “future mapping” any negotiation scholar and practitioner needs to do. This book illustrates the important notion that what happens “at the table” is only a small part of negotiation practice and theory — all theorists and practitioners of negotiation must spend as much, or more, time in preparation, analysis, study, debriefing, evaluation, implantation and follow-through with both substance (zooming out) and relationships and people (zooming in) as in behavior during any negotiation.

Suggested Citation

Menkel-Meadow, Carrie J., Deconstructing Henry: Negotiation Lessons from Kissinger’s Career (August 14, 2019). Negotiation Journal, Vol. 35, No.3, 2019, Forthcoming; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2019-41. Available at SSRN:

Carrie J. Menkel-Meadow (Contact Author)

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Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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