Tag Archives: Thomas. M. Rapone

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.


The Many Faces of the Negotiator

This post explores the different types of negotiators. Attached is the power point from a short presentation that I deliver on The Many Faces of the Negotiator which illustrates the different types of negotiators who participate in the negotiation process. Unfortunately some of these people give the professional negotiator a bad name. At the end of the day the Reptile, Shopper and Tuff Guy are people who masquerade as negotiators and cloak their fatal flaws through their style. Even though they may experience occasional success it is merely coincidental. Only a negotiator acting in a professional manner with a clear “eye on the prize” will experience success on a regular basis. I hope that this presentation will be of help to the reader as it shines a bright light on bad behavior that in some social circles passes for skill. Enjoy The Many Faces of the Negotiator.


Strategy As Deodorant For Unethical Behavior

I was ending a session of The Smart Negotiator® with an exercise entitled: Ethical Questions for Negotiators. It is always interesting to conduct this exercise because ethical behavior is so subjective by nature. The discussions are usually spirited but in the end the audience usually arrives at a sound conclusion.  However, this particular group wandered into some interesting territory. For the first time a group didn’t make the clear distinction between ethical behavior and unethical behavior. They split hairs instead and made the distinction between what was “unprofessional” v. “unethical.” The audience believed that a negotiator’s usage of a variety of questionable methods (tricks) to achieve a deal was the employment of “strategy” rather than simply a negotiator acting in an “unethical” manner.  They didn’t buy into the notion that when a negotiator uses questionable methods strategically to gain an advantage it is unethical. They were more comfortable with the hybrid concept of “unprofessional” to describe this type of negotiator. For example I posed the question “is it acceptable to manipulate deadlines to put the other party at a disadvantage?”  The audience concluded that  it was a clear strategy and there was the possibility that it could be unprofessional but would not go as far as identifying this behavior as unethical. In the 21st Century have we just grown used to bad behavior in the negotiation process to the point that the color of the unethical has turned completely grey? Or can this whole discussion be summed up in the words of a half-dead folk singer: “the times they are a changing.”  

I will leave you to ponder the quandary for yourself:  if a negotiator  genuinely believes in the concepts of partnership, relationship building, diversity and win-win how could you split the hair of ethical behavior? Consequently, it is the opinion of this author that in many cases the concept of strategy is being used as deodorant in order to rationalize unethical behavior. When does it stop being strategic and become unethical? I think if you have to ask this question you are probably already in some precarious territory. It reminded me of the moment of clarity that came over me when presidential candidate Bill Clinton was asked about drug use. He claimed that he “tried marijuana but didn’t inhale” (ba da bing ba da boom!). 

I have listed some of the Ethical Questions for Negotiators from the exercise for your personal use. Read through each one and draw your own conclusions based on your personal ethical compass. I look forward to your responses.

  1. Is it acceptable to use coercion (power, threats or brand) in a negotiation to get the other party to concede?
  2. Is there a difference between truth-honesty-full disclosure?
  3. Is it acceptable to manipulate deadlines to put the other party at a disadvantage?
  4. Is it ethical to play “good guy” – “bad guy” in a negotiation?
  5. To deliberately ask for something that you really don’t want just to create tension and show concession behavior?
  6. As a prime is it acceptable to tell a subcontractor that “you need to take a 12% challenge or you are off of the program”?
  7. To make the other party travel a great distance, then hold the negotiation at 7:00AM?
  8. Is it acceptable to say “this is the best that I can do” when it isn’t the truth?
  9. If you are a good person is it ok to lie to the other party in a negotiation?

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..”

 


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