Book Review
Title: "The 33 Strategies of War"
Author: Robert Greene
Publisher: Penguin, 2007; 496 pages; $22

If you’ve been reading my columns for long, you’ve probably gotten the sense that I see negotiations as a problem-solving opportunity: a chance for everyone involved to get their needs met, or perhaps do even better. However, this approach definitely has its caveats.

First, there are simply situations in which the interests of a home’s buyer and those of its seller directly conflict. This is precisely why it’s ideal for buyers and seller to have their own separate brokers: to facilitate finding the win-win, when it’s possible, but to ensure each party’s interests in this high-value transaction are protected, if and when intense conflicts do arise.

Second, some people simply have a different point of view, seeing every negotiation as a war. This is easy to understand, and largely a matter of emphasis: You can focus on the things that both buyer and seller want in a transaction, or you can focus on the ways in which their interests always seem to conflict (e.g., buyer wants a lower price, seller wants a higher price, etc.). While my focus tends toward the former, I also recognize that there is utility — even value — to trying on the other point of view.

There are age-old texts and historical learnings about how to be smart and, eventually, victorious in the context of a war, which anyone who is negotiating anything can learn from, in order to protect their own interests and get their needs met.

Robert Greene, best-selling author of "The 48 Laws of Power," has taken on the weighty task of assembling and interpreting many of those old texts and war stories into "The 33 Strategies of War." This book includes way more than 33 highly usable insights, strategies and recommendations that virtually any professional, consumer, negotiator — anyone who ever has to deal with any sort of challenge or conflict, ever — can learn from.

So, while I differ with Greene’s emphasis (i.e., "life is endless battle and conflict"), you can’t argue with his thesis that conflict is inevitable. He’s also correct that feeling equipped to engage in conflict, rather than always trying to avoid it, is essential for being a strong, effective and capable adult in this world. To that end, here is a taste of his massive collection of strategies, a few of Greene’s "fundamental ideals" for being a strategic warrior — as needed — in your everyday life:

"Look at things as they are, not as your emotions color them." Facing the brutal truth of situations, rather than allowing your emotions about things to color how you interpret them, is essential to sound, strategic decision-making in every area of your life. But the higher the stakes are, the more adversarial a situation gets, the more intensely your emotions may influence how you perceive things and formulate your plan of action or responses to your ‘adversary.’"

So you can see how germane this is to real estate dealings. Your home is likely the largest asset/purchase/transaction you will ever make, and it requires a major emotional commitment to even decide that you would like to own a particular property, much less to go through the months or years of preparation, savings and logistical hoops it can require to actually make it yours.

So, when you feel a threat to "your" home, whether by competing buyers, a turn in your economic circumstances or market dynamics that don’t value it as highly as you do, it’s the most human of reactions to unconsciously allow fear, attachment, anger, even success to skew your view of reality and your decision-making.

Greene says that to be a strategic warrior demands "the utmost in realism," which you can achieve only by being "aware that the pull of emotion is inevitable, notic[ing] it when it is happening and, compensat[ing] for it."

"Depend on your own arms." We humans tend to rely on strategies and things that are easy, simple or proven effective, based on our past experiences. But relying on these things can be a trap for the unwary, because as Greene states bluntly, "Everything in life can be taken away from you and generally will be at some point."

Greene insists that our true advantage in matters of conflict in every area of life is to be found in our strategic arsenal and our mental fortitude, not in gadgetry, gear or even allies.

In the real estate context, adopting this ideal requires us to get educated and proactive about things like running our own budget and affordability numbers, understanding comparable sales data fully, and being intelligently skeptical and analytical of the advice and input we receive from others to ensure we truly understand and are assertive in formulating our own actions and approaches.

"Worship Athena, not Ares." Ares, Greene explains, was the Greek god of brutally violent war in its most direct form, while Athena was the deity embodying the wise warrior mentality, including craftiness and strategy.

Greene recommends readers do as the Greeks did and model their battles in life, their engagements in conflict, after Athena, not Ares, urging an approach that eschews conflict for its own sake. Rather, Greene advises, our "interest in war is … the rationality and pragmatism it forces upon us."

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