Dealing with Genghis Khan and other tough negotiators

(#3 of 27 revisited blog posts, “Potency, difference and diversity”)

There are two kinds of Negotiation Skills training experiences: The hardball-jerk kind, and the softball-wimp kind.

This guy.

This guy.

  • The 1st kind uses terms like “power” and “leverage.”
  • The 2nd kind talks about things like “win-lose” and “win-win.”

Soft skills training people like me tend to focus overly on the soft second kind of training. However in this post today I’m going to take a hard look at those who excel at the first kind of training.

Because while the term “win-win” is a cute concept, the desire for power and leverage is a real thing.

SIDE NOTE DISCLAIMER / SELF-PROMOTIONAL PLUG:  Did you know there’s also a 3rd and 4th kind of negotiation skills training? More about those in the comments section below.

Genghis Khan Quote 1

Re-introducing Genghis Khan

A couple of weeks ago I briefly mentioned the far-reaching genetic effects of two remarkable people — the Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages, and the Mongolian warlord/emperor Genghis Khan. What I didn’t mention in as much detail was the specific mechanics of their reproductive success: they were nasty, brutish and cut short the lives of many, many others.

Let’s talk a bit more about those jerks, Niall and Khan, and their hardball use of power and leverage.

Genghis Khan’s story is well documented and instructive on many levels. An appropriate place to start or review the lesson is this video at the Khan Academy.  Yeah, I know, Khan Academy, so ironic.

Khan’s lust for violence and destruction knew no bounds, and his well-trained horsemen brought an apocalypse upon a good chunk of the world.  Different cultures define a “deserving ruler” in different ways. For example, in many cultures when a ruler has a superior military technology, there’s an expectation that they will use their power and leverage to protect and stabilize their immediate territory and interests. However for Genghis Khan the power and leverage of his more advanced military was applied towards a goal of worldwide subjugation and devastation. No journalistic hyperbole or metaphor here.

Genghis Khan Quote 2

As for Niall, not a lot is known specifically about him as an individual, but the legends that surround paint a picture of nonstop raiding, plundering and conspiracy. The epithet, “of the Nine Hostages,” refers to the cruel strategy of exploiting other people’s concern for their loved ones in order to extract concessions and ultimately wipe them out.

For those who see kindness and compassion as ideal virtues to cultivate in human beings, Khan and Niall present a problem. As highly aggressive and competitive individuals, they managed to spread their genes (and associated lessons) further and wider than those of the kinder and gentler stock of humanity. More worrisome is the idea that they succeeded in evolutionary terms (as well as social terms) precisely because they seized a moment where the rest of the population was weak enough to get exploited, creating an evolutionary bottleneck that their chromosomes (and associated lessons) could pass through.

All of these violent and aggressive tendencies translate into a series of destructively heavy-handed negotiation tactics that show up in the board room, the sales desk, the auto dealership… and not to mention the world stage. Once one of those places is overrun with Genghis Khan types, its efficacy as a constructive forum drops to near-zero levels — it just costs too much to get anything useful done there.

Sons and daughters of Khan

No Asshole Rule by SuttonOkay, what have we learned so far?

It’s too easy to resist the example of Khan and Niall and say, “Yeah, but nowadays these aggressive traits don’t get selected, neither biologically nor socially” i.e. being a jerk doesn’t get you anywhere.

I completely disagree, for one fundamental reason:

There is a Genghis Khan in all of us.  

You don’t need to be a direct descendant of Khan. A moderate amount of testosterone will do… and yes, regardless of your gender there’s going to be some C19H28O2  in your bloodstream.

Furthermore, attempts to reduce testoterone often result (or are caused by) an increase in cortisol, the hormone of powerlessness, victimhood and Stockholm Syndrome. Khan wins again.

As for extending the No Asshole Rule as a social policy, it really only works within a given tribe… and even then, tribes have a tendency to eventually sub-divide and compete from within, especially as those tribes become larger and more variegated.

A drop of biologically-driven ambition is all it takes to upset a socially-engineered pool of pacifism.

The inevitable conclusion

There’s a whole lotta Khan out there.

Every single day, a would-be Khan makes a discovery that will help them become an even stronger Khan.

Every week, a mini-Khan gets some hardball negotiation skills training from a mega-Khan.

There’s no way to quash Khan, least of all through the mandatory application of the 2nd kind of negotiation skills training… that would just soften the landscape for Khan and provide an evolutionary filter for the non-Khans.

What to do about it, then?

  1. Recognize, protect against and discourage the emerging Genghis Khans on your negotiation landscape
  2. Rechannel your inner Genghis Khan to be passionate, creative, and ambitiously constructive

The rest, as they say, is mere commentary.  Now go and learn how to do that.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on January 3, 2015, in Collaboration, Communication Skills, Leadership, Learning, Life, Metaphors, Negotiation, Risk Management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

    Read the history of the Sikh kirpan, and listen to Amy Cuddy.

  2. If the “1st kind” of negotiation skills training is focused on competitive approaches and the “2nd kind” is focused on collaborative approaches, then the kind of negotiation skills training that I prefer to design and facilitate is a blend of what could be called a “3rd” and “4th” kind:

    • The “3rd kind” of negotiation skills training navigates a wider spectrum of approaches than the simple competitive-collaborative dichotomy. This type of training usually provides for rich theoretical discussions; however it has the risk of achieving low levels of actionable, audience-specific relevance.

    • The “4th kind” of negotiation skills training applies all the theory of the 3rd kind toward a specific audience and set of situations. In order to hit the mark and be a relevant experience, it requires a fair bit of analysis and effort for all parties involved, i.e. The writer/instructional designer, the publisher/facilitator, and the readers/participants.

    The winning formula in my experience has been to provide 10% – 20% of the 3rd kind to level-set the audience, and 80% – 90% of the 4th kind, to provide them with useful learning.

    Need to develop excellent negotiation skills? Contact me, and we’ll see what we can do together.

  1. Pingback: 30 Best Quotes Genghis Khan

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