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The Negotiator and the Lizard King:

 

For years I have used the concept of the reptilian brain as it relates to behavior in the context of a negotiation. I can honest say, the participants have had a lot of fun with it as they learned valuable lessons of the negotiation craft. In fact, I had one class purchase me a 2-foot long plastic lizard to use as a visual in my future classes. However, recently I had a client that just could not understand the role that the reptilian brain plays in a negotiation, frustrating them to the point that they did not even want to use the word. Consequently, I thought there may be a need to revisit our very distinguished guest the “reptilian brain.” For those of you who have completed The Smart Negotiator!® course, this will be a refresher. For those who have just discovered our blog, this may be new material or simply putting a name to what you have already discovered as a practitioner.

First of all, what is the reptilian brain? The reptilian brain is the back part of the brain, or as some argue, our first of three brains. This brain is the most primitive of the three and concerns itself with basic functions. When the reptilian brain becomes the dominant part of the brain, it is known as the R-Complex. Manifested in behavioral characteristics, such as tribal hierarchies, group think, anxiety, fear, aggression and competition. How then does the reptilian brain affect the behavior of the negotiator?

“Riders On The Storm….”

The first way is fairly easy. Negotiation is a ritual–a dance if you will, that takes time. How much time we don’t know. There is no formula for how long a negotiation should last. There are a number of variables that contribute to the actual length of the negotiation. However, the reptile is not a very patient creature and will attempt to urge the negotiator to truncate the process every chance it gets. This anxious urge that you have felt during the course of a negotiation is produced by our ole pal the reptilian brain. Now, the source of this feeling has a face and a name. More specifically, you may find yourself in a negotiation and it has been dragging on. Then, the other party makes a concession and the reptile starts to give you advice that is not conducive to the negotiation process. This impatient little voice says: “quick hurry up! Take it before they change their mind. You don’t want to go home empty handed. Do you?” So you succumb to this reptilian urge and say “yes” accepting the offer from the other party and the reward is you are done. NOT I have completed the negotiation done but finished stick a fork in me done. Yes, life is good for all of the lizards in your head.

To combat this impatient urge, I suggest that the negotiator reject the offer on the table and step back, creating intellectual distance and slowing down the process. At this point, ask yourself, “does the deal on the table satisfy all my needs?”. If yes, then you are ready to accept and move on. However, if it does not, you need to continue the negotiation until it does. If you succumb to the lizard and accept a deal prematurely because of this urge, your final agreement will lack the quality that is typically found in deals made by fundamentally sound negotiators.

“This Is The End…”

The second way that the reptilian brain affects the behavior of a negotiator is more complex. The reptilian brain serves multiple functions. One of these unique functions is to serve as a protectorate from the ugliness of the world around us. In the context of a negotiation, there is a certain amount of stress and psychological discomfort that is ever present. Let’s face it, even in a negotiation that is going well, there is more rejection than acceptance. Rejection causes stress and is naturally present in every negotiation. Stress can also be manufactured by the other party deliberately using “strategic tactics” to transform common stress into lethal forms of psychological discomfort that become the dog whistle for the summoning of the reptile.

So, when does the lizard show up to protect us and save the day? Everyone has a threshold as to how much psychological discomfort that they can tolerate. Once you have reached your maximum level of psychological discomfort, a state of psychological imbalance occurs. Fritz Heider created the “balance theory” during the 1950’s. He argued that when the human mind gets out of psychological balance for whatever reason, it strives to re-establish stasis as a corrective measure. Consequently, when a negotiator has reached their personal maximum level of psychological discomfort, a state of imbalance exists and the reptilian brain is activated. The lizards are released to rescue the negotiator and attempt to create stasis at any cost. Since the reptile is primitive, the solutions offered are not very complex, but can be very damaging to the negotiation. The lizard will focus on the source or root cause of the psychological discomfort and provide solutions that offer immediate relief. In the context of a negotiation, it is usually the other party across the table that has caused the imbalance, for a variety of reasons. Consequently, the reptile’s advice is typically appeasement: “do you want this guy to go away?” “then give it to him and the problem will be resolved”. Yielding to create stasis or caving is the quickest and easiest way to reach agreement. However, it can have a very devastating effect on the final outcome.

On a personal level, the negotiator may have an IQ of 196 and 30 years of experience and none of this will matter, because these assets reside in the neo-cortex of the brain. When the reptilian brain becomes the dominant part of the brain it serves as a gate keeper and the items in the neo-cortex can’t be accessed, because the reptilian brain is busy protecting you. As a negotiator, when you are in a state of acute psychological discomfort, the most primitive part of the brain is now in the command chair and good things are not going to happen to you.

“People Are Strange…”

The type of negotiators who are the most susceptible to reptilian behavior are ones who are a bit on the introverted side or have a low tolerance for psychological discomfort. More specifically, if you have completed the Meyers Briggs psychological profile, it would be individuals who are designated as an “I”. Consequently, when an offer is placed on the table, this type of negotiator does not evaluate the offer on its merit, but rather on how much psychological discomfort it is going to cause them, personally, to accept or reject it. This is simply the wrong criteria. In this case, the other party has managed to shift the focus of the negotiation from the particulars of the deal to the personal well being of the other negotiator. When this situation occurs, as we say in the business, “game over.”

Other negotiators are also affected by the lizard. Negotiators possessing a type-A personality are also susceptible to the R-Complex. However, it affects them differently. The type-A negotiator is hyper- competitive and has a tendency to privilege winning over the quality of the deal. When the level of psychological discomfort rises in a type-A negotiator, the lizard does not use appeasement to establish stasis as with the introverts. Instead, the lizard feeds the beast and promotes aggression to destroy the negotiator across the table that is denying you your bounty. When the frustration of not getting what you want from such an inferior party reaches critical mass, the lizard is activated to restore stasis. The guidance from the reptilian brain is clear: “you want this guy to go away? Crush him!” Anger, threats, yelling, profanity, physically pounding a shoe or fist on the table is typical behavior of a type-A negotiator with the lizard at the wheel. This may be fun and even exciting momentarily. However, this behavior will not produce a quality deal on a consistent basis. If the other party realizes that you have voluntarily taken your eye off of the prize to engage in histrionics as a strategy you risk becoming their entertainment for the day. Again as we say in the business, “game over.”

“Break On Through…”

Now that we have explained what the reptilian brain is, who it affects and how it can interfere with the negotiation process, we need to address corrective measures. First of all, know the difference between general garden variety stress and psychological discomfort. Once you begin to have feelings of uneasiness, this is psychological discomfort and the Lizard King has just paid you a visit. Awareness is key here. Secondly, the psychological discomfort needs to be monitored. How strong is it? How much more can I take and still function as a professional negotiator? Is that Mr. Mojo Risin making a house call? Thirdly, on a personal level, know where your limit is. If you miscalculate and the lizard assumes command, the effect on the negotiation can be disastrous. In the distance you can hear the lizard king singing his favorite song: “This is the end my only friend the end of our elaborate plans the end.” Lastly, manage it. When you feel like the psychological discomfort is increasing to the level of impairment, take corrective measures. Call a caucus to stop the negotiation and rest psychologically. This disengagement allows for the psychological discomfort to subside. Once you feel it has dissipated, you can reengage the other party in the negotiation process and continue to create a quality deal. Once you have neutralized the effect of the reptilian brain on you as a negotiator through awareness and corrective measures, your chance of success has been significantly increased. The Smart Negotiator! ® learns to keep the Lizard King in his place. However, if you are unaware of the concept and misinterpret psychological discomfort as simple stress the situation will become a playground for the lizard. Let me leave you with a thought, if The Doors of perception were cleansed, the concept of the reptilian brain would be perfectly clear.

On a cultural literacy note, James Douglas Morrison from The Doors is the Lizard King. The anagram of Mr Mojo Risin is Jim Morrison.


Smart Negotiators Master Skills NOT Tools

The Smart Negotiator!® class focuses on skill development through real life problem-based exercises. The goal is to change the way the participants “think” about the negotiation process and to rely more on skill rather than on tools.  It sounds so simple and almost benign but at the end of the day it is the “mind-set” of the negotiator that will produce a high quality deal. Through the years I have delivered my course to countless procurement and sourcing professionals, contract & subcontracts personnel and program managers.  It has been my experience that most of these people when trained are taught investigative and organizational skills rather than negotiation skills. The fatal flaw is the underlying premise that information & knowledge is power and if you collect more than the other party you win! Consequently, when training new professionals for these roles the emphasis is placed upon the mastery of tools such as excel spread sheets, power point, internet programs and company templates designed to ease the task of gathering & organizing information to support a position.  However, all it really produces is well-informed knowledgeable people who rely primarily on information and don’t have the skills developed to create a high quality deal.

We Shape Our Tools and Then Our Tools Shape Us

Enter Marshall McLuhan or should I say Nostradamus because all of his predictions had come to pass. McLuhan was a Professor at the University of Toronto who served as the Director of The Center for Culture and Technology through the 1960’s and 1970’s. During this time he published several books including: The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In his works he argued that everything that we create is an extension of man. The wheel is an extension of the foot, the computer is an extension of the brain and so on.  Although these technological advancements are useful and help us with a variety of tasks they are not free. Each technological advancement comes with a very distinct human and cultural price.  Hence he credited the invention of the printing press with the destruction of our memory. He argued that “we shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

For the Smart Negotiator the conversation has now come full circle. Examine the “tools” that corporations provide program managers, sourcing, contract & subcontracts personnel and address the question: how have these tools shaped the way they “think” and “see” the negotiation process?  You would have a hard time denying the fact that the tools of today contribute to the collect-organize-compare (analyze)-select mind-set. As a result, many deals can be merely selected rather than created through the artful skill of a negotiator. Therefore, the price that we pay is not only a reduction in the quality of deals but more importantly a new normal is created in acceptable behavior during the negotiation process.

Yes Professor McLuhan our tools do shape us but they should not control us.  The successful contemporary negotiator will take advantage of the tools made available through the advancement in technology while concurrently developing their skills. The point is to “use” the tools and “master” the negotiation skills.

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The Smart Negotiator’s formula for success: 10 lbs. of data = ZERO oz. of skill

Finally a note to the reader. For a maximum learning experience I suggest that this article be read a second time with Zager & Evans blasting In the Year 2525 from You Tube. Cue the music. “In the year 2525 if man is still alive..”

 


Leverage: The Bastard Child of Coercion

Recently, “leverage” has become a popular word that found its way into public conversations regarding “fiscal cliffs”, “debt ceilings” and “sequestrations.”  Who has leverage? Who wants it? What are you going to do if you discover that you have it? Ah yes, the dilemma surrounding leverage is a complex one.   According to Wikipedia, leverage in negotiation is the “ability to influence the other side to move closer to one’s position.” In this definition, the word “influence” implies a persuasive effort.  However, at the functional level, leverage removes the free will to choose by severely limiting the viable choices. To translate, leverage means you have to give me concessions free, or I will do something harmful to you personally, to your company (an entity) or to your country.  In reality, leverage is simply the bastard child of coercion.  At the street level people get it.  This concept is clearly reflected in the way participants describe a negotiation manifested in phrases like “we have them over a barrel” or “we have them by the shorthair”. However, civilized people don’t use phraseology like this because it sounds too much like coercion, which has a negative connotation.  Consequently, at the executive level we put on our suit and tie, stand coercion on its hind legs, put a smiley face on it and proclaim “we have leverage!”  Doesn’t that have a nice professional ring to it? A wise man once said, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. 

Why do negotiators want leverage so badly?  Mainly because they don’t have to negotiate a deal, but rather simply dictate the terms of the surrender.  As you can see, leverage can serve as a wild-card in the negotiation process by becoming a shortcut that retards the skill development of the players who rely upon it.   I am frequently asked in class “how do I negotiate when I don’t have any leverage?” The answer is simple: negotiation is a skill, leverage is a tool. Develop your skill and know the difference between the two and you will be fine.


Shopper v. Negotiator

The goal of The Smart Negotiator® workshop is to have you leave seeing the world as a negotiator NOT as a sophisticated shopper.  Every day people participate in the negotiation process and then return to their office and argue in a linear fashion that because I have participated in a negotiation that “I’m a negotiator.”  You must realize what a “disconnect” this conclusion really is. There are many people who participant in the negotiation process that I would never describe as negotiators.  Most people are nothing more than tourists or shoppers that sit on the bus and wave at the deal as it goes by. It all happens around them and they come home with a deal and had little to do with its creation.  They basically made a decision not a deal.  I know that decision and deal both begin with the letter D and this can cause some confusion.  However, these words are not synonyms.  So herein lies one of the major distinctions between a shopper and a negotiator—A shopper goes to a negotiation situation looking for a deal….A negotiator goes to a negotiation situation and creates a deal that does not already exist before they walk in. This is not a casual nuance between the two parties.  Don’t be horrified when you send a shopper to do the job as a negotiator when you discover what they come back with.  Authorship is important.

There is one word I tend to use in this situation and it is accommodate.  If the other party discovers you as a shopper they will accommodate you. This means that they will create the deal put it in a nice package put a red bow on the top and sell it to you.  The problem occurs when you arrive back to your office and open the package and the deal in the box is skewed heavily toward the author and the author is not you!

Kenneth Burke a communication scholar coined the term “terministic screens” which are filters that we view the world through to help us interpret reality.  We all have educational and occupational biases and paradigms that we have been taught to see the world through.  These biases and paradigms are terrific for the jobs that we do and is why we are good at what we do.  However, none of these biases and paradigms transfers to the world of negotiation.  These filters skew our vision of the negotiation process.  More specifically, if you enter into a negotiation situation thinking like an engineer you are toast!  If you enter into a negotiation situation thinking like a program manager you might as well go home and through yourself on your sword!  If you go to a negotiation situation thinking like a financial analysis school is out!  If you are going to do this well…and well is the operative term…you need to talk think act like a negotiator from the time that you get up in the morning until the time you put the cat out in the evening. And when you stand in front of the mirror getting ready to face the new day if you don’t see a negotiator looking back at you how can you expect anybody else to see one. Remember they will accommodate you!

Technology is another culprit that contributes to our skewed vision of the negotiation process.  In our contemporary business environment we have a number of technological tools that are designed to make us work more efficiently.  Sourcing professionals for example have computers connected to the internet that can collect information on almost any product or service in the world and that information can be imported into an excel program with established parameters that can produce a decision within seconds.  The scenario that I have just described for you is a very sophisticated shopper with a very sophisticated set of tools. Many would argue that this is progress and negotiation is time-consuming.  They simply can’t negotiate everything because of their demanding workload.  Consequently, they use these technical tools to do work and reserve negotiation for deals of significant consequence.  This mentality begs the question, if you don’t use negotiation skills routinely what makes you think that you can summon skills you don’t have because the context requires it?

As early as the 1960’s, Marshall McLuhan, a professor at the University of Toronto, studied the impact of media and technology upon the culture. He believed that the participants of the culture pay a human price to use technology.  The price that we are paying in technologically advanced cultures in the 21st Century is the erosion of negotiation as an artful business skill-set.  It is the equivalent of the functional illiterate.  Consequently, shoppers can create agreements without negotiating by simply using the data that they have collected and make a decision instead. Now that I have your attention and got you thinking, I would like for you to answer one question for me: “are YOU a negotiator or just another sophisticated shopper completing a task?”  GAME ON!


“I Can See Clearly Now…”

In The Smart Negotiator!® course I am constantly stressing that participants need to improve their “vision” if they truly want to be a high quality negotiator.  Hence, the question:  what does a skilled negotiator “see” that other people who are engaged in the same situation simply miss?  One of the many aspects of vision, is the ability to distinguish between obstacles and challengesNegotiators see challenges to be overcome or worked around to keep the process moving.  Shoppers, on the other hand, see obstacles, which truncate the negotiation process and block the development of the deal. 

This point is often illustrated during a labor/management exercise presented during The Smart Negotiator!® course.  This case has a distinct degree of difficulty, due to the complexity of union contracts.   Inevitably, the lesson of “vision” is on full display as the parties try to navigate through the exercise.  As part of the negotiation context, a hypothetical company owns a tourism business in the nation’s capitol.  For a number of reasons, its drivers are not required to possess a CDL (commercial driver’s license) to operate the buses.  On its face, this issue appears to benefit the employees by providing people without a CDL who have the appropriate skill set to be gainfully employed.  However, drivers working at any of their competitors that are required to possess a valid CDL, earn 30% more in wages.  Moreover, as part of the situation, the company can get a $300,000 rebate in their insurance premiums if they get all (35) of their drivers a CDL.  If the company paid for the training and the employees were “on the clock”, the total one-time spend would be $277,900.  However, there’s a problem:  30% of the drivers are functional illiterates. 

Let’s apply the “vision test” to determine how participants view this situation. A shopper, seeing obstacles, will claim with conviction, that if the company pays for the training, then the employees will leave to get a job with a competitor for 30% more pay.  This shopper sees an obstacle that is framed as an intellectual dead-end forcing the negotiation to take a different direction.  However, the negotiator responds by recognizing the challenge in the situation, claiming that if the company pays for the training of the CDL, the employee must agree to stay for 2-years or pay back the prorated amount of training cost if they leave. 

What about the functional illiterates that are driving for this company?  How is this fact going to be handled by the participants?  As you might guess, the shopper is fatalistic in their assessment (vision).  “These people will never be able to pass the classroom part of the CDL requirement because they can’t read”.  Another manufactured dead-end, requiring a change of direction in the negotiation.  The negotiator understands that these drivers are skillful enough to pass the road and range portion of the CDL blindfolded.  The challenge that the negotiator sees is getting them to pass the written portion of the test.  Many states allow someone to read the written portion of the driver’s test to people who can’t read.  Remember this is a knowledge test not a reading test. This option could be one of the many ways to work around this challenge.  There are other ways to mitigate this challenge–if you are looking!

In this case, as a result of the negotiator seeing challenges, instead of obstacles, they are able to negotiate an agreement that will allow the company to reduce its insurance premiums by $300,000 annually. If you are the owner, this savings is worth the effort.  And if you are the negotiator, it is your professional responsibility.  

Is that a shopper I hear?  Or just Johnny Nash singing “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.  I can see all obstacles in my way”?   Ah, but through the eyes of The Smart Negotiator, “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.  It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day”.


The “F” Word in Negotiation

What is the negotiation “F-word”? It is the word “fair”. Who can say that they haven’t heard “this is a fair deal,” or “this is fair and reasonable.”–or better yet, “I believe that this deal is fair for both of us”? When someone tells you that their offer is fair, you should instinctively reach to protect your wallet. Hopefully, your hand will get there before they do!

The continual use of the “F-word” relative to negotiations provides an interesting perspective, as it is frequently and improperly imposed as the ultimate criteria to gauge success. A successful deal must be functional, not necessarily fair. A functional deal is where both parties have their needs satisfied. Yes, I realize that both functional and fair begin with the letter “F”, but please do not confuse the two. If you put together a fair deal and offer it to the other party and they reject it, what happens then? Here’s what happens: you find yourself selling the deal through persuasion rather than continuing to negotiate.

The persuasive approach tends to lead to arguments that are not germane to the deal-making process and create obstacles to closure. At some point, you become fatigued from this persuasive exercise in futility and your reptilian brain encourages you to offer your bottom line, usually heading for a marginal deal (perhaps fair, but marginal).

Moreover, I am not so sure there is such a thing as a fair deal. I have seen good deals and bad deals, but can’t really say that I have seen a fair deal. Any negotiator can make the case that their position or offer is fair, no matter how far off of the grid it really is. Those who are most vulnerable to a “fair” deal are introverts. Let’s face it, negotiation is a communication nightmare for most people. It ranks right up there with public speaking and snakes in terms of what causes the most psychological discomfort. Even in the most successful deals, there are more statements of rejection than those of acceptance. Consequently, agreeing to “fair” makes perfect sense to introverts and/or linear thinkers, because it causes them the least amount of psychological pain. When psychological discomfort becomes the determining factor in whether to accept or reject an offer, your ability to achieve a quality outcome is diluted. Unfortunately, this gives the other party a ripe opportunity to game you.

This is not to say that introverts or people without an “E” in their Myers-Briggs rating cannot be successful negotiators. On the contrary, some of best negotiators that I have met are classic introverts. They may be very good at it, but they will never like it. Nowhere does it say that you must enjoy the process of negotiation in order to do it well and create quality deals. Consequently, The Smart Negotiator uses “Q” for quality as the word of the day (and the ultimate criteria to gauge success), rather than the “F-word”.


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