Category Archives: Negotiation

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.

The Art of Handling Difficult Behavior

The art of handling difficult behavior begins with the realization that every behavior has a positive intention, for the person doing it… and that intention can be boiled down to certain basic needs.

In his popular TED Talk, “Why We Do What We Do,” Anthony Robbins shares his distillation of what he considers to be the four universal, basic human needs :

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love

..and two more spiritual needs:

  • Growth
  • Contribution


(For less concise distillations of fundamental human needs, see Abraham Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef, and Donald Brown. among others. Brown’s list of Human Universals has been effectively analyzed and applied by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate. In The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham extracts five fear-need pairings from Brown: Death-Security, Outsiders-Community; Future-Clarity; Chaos-Authority; Insignificance-Respect. )

I’m a fan of Robbin’s list of 6 basic human needs, in that it is succinct and yet comprehensive, with an interesting interplay between the elements on the list. I would just add the concept of fulfilling a “life script” into the mix — i.e., we not only seek to fulfill certain needs, but we also seek to confirm a set a beliefs about who we are and what is our life story. What we seek and how we seek it are what characterize our deepest patterns of behavior.  (Robbins and others would assert that one can challenge and rewrite a life script — and I’d agree — but let’s save that discussion for another day.)

In any case, one of the ways to effectively deal with another person’s difficult behavior is to

  1. determine the positive intention behind that behavior; and then
  2. lead them towards a better way of fulfilling that intention.

The rest, as they say, is mere commentary.

Comparing Grass Under the Snow

It’s hard to compare whether the grass is greener on the other side, when both sides are covered with snow.

IMG_1378 Grass Growing Through Snow - Jan 2013

In plain words:

Those contemplating change often operate with massively incomplete information, especially during a darker, tougher time, aka, the winter season. An icy cold exterior hides — temporarily — the long-term value potential of any given option.  This is a classic problem of risk management… and a ready source of opportunity for those who can navigate it well.

IMG_1377 - Grass Growing Through Snow - Jan 2013

Extended Metaphor Mix:

(with special thanks to the FB Peanut Gallery)

pointPotential Lesson #1: BE PATIENT.

If you’re willing to wait until spring, things should be clearer to figure out.

counterpointCounter-point #1: DON’T MISS OUT. 

Sometimes you only get a certain window of opportunity to act, especially when there is competition for the thing that you want. The market handsomely rewards those willing to take on calculated risk… so perhaps there is a way to reduce uncertainty, or at least hedge against an unexpected/unwanted outcome.


The side that thaws first — usually the sunnier side — has the advantage.  So too when your options include a human element, e.g. choosing between two potential business partners, employers, employees, etc… gauge their level of ability and willingness.

counterpointCounter-point #2: LOOK BELOW THE SURFACE.

The sun is not the only thing that thaws the ground.  Sometimes, it’s the side over the septic tank that thaws first. Great skills and attitude do not necessarily a good partner make.  Watch out for selfishness and negative pride… you want a person who is externally focused and giving.

pointPotential Lesson #3 : FOLLOW NATURE’S EXAMPLE (?)

“Nature doesn’t distinguish between the green and the less green.”   – Nareg

counterpointCounter-point #3:  …

I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say here, Nareg.  You might be talking about non-attachment / non-seeking of any side… or you might just be blowing-up the metaphor in some other way…


“I read an article once that claimed the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side. Why? Because grass appears more green when viewed from the general angle one is at when looking next door verses looking down at one’s own grass.” – Jamie

counterpointCounter-point #4: DO THE BEST YOU CAN.

There is no counter-point here… except perhaps to walk on both sides, dig through the snow, and compare the experiences directly, which brings us to the next potential lesson…

pointPotential Lesson #5: ACQUIRE BOTH YARDS.

If you acquire both yards, whichever one is greener is the one you can keep, once the snow thaws.  Or you can keep ’em both indefinitely.

counterpointCounter-point #5: CAN YOU EVEN DO THAT?

You may not have the resources or  rights to acquire and hold onto both.

IMG_1387 Grass Growing Through Snow - Jan 2013

Editorial Comment:

It’s reassuring to know that my backyard garden can still be a source of inspiration, even when it’s dormant.

Looking forward to planting season…

Learning and Unlearning the Elements of Style

There are more than four kinds of people  in the world, but in order to work effectively with as many of them as possible, it’s helpful to imagine – for a moment – that there might only be four.


The problem is once we’ve learned the frameworks that help identify the different “elements of style” of people, we must just as soon unlearn those frameworks.  This is a problem that even we instructors of those “four types of people” frameworks struggle with.

(SIDE NOTE: If you clicked through to this post thinking that this would be about the classic text on good writing form, Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” you’re not entirely out of luck: The concepts in this post do apply, albeit through analogy, to the topic of “Learning and Unlearning the Rules of Grammar, Punctuation, Sentence Form, etc.”  and more generally in the category of “Don’t let learning and mastering the basics of a subject get in the way of being effective in real life when dealing with that subject .”) 


Learning the Basics

Teaching and learning about “styles” of people  is a basic element of almost every interpersonal development (aka “soft skills”) curriculum. The “styles” discussion can come up in almost any soft skills lesson, whether the lesson is on communicating, leading, collaborating, selling, negotiating, learning, teaching , or practically any other gerund related to social interaction. four-humours-temperaments-personal-blend  Tell me the name of an activity that people do with each other on a regular basis, and I’ll name you four (sometimes 2, 3, 5 or 16) ways of doing it.  It’s usually 4 ways because I’m a consultant… and I have a knack of coming up with useful distinctions that form 2×2 matrices.

Here’s what the typical lesson looks like:

  1. First, have the learners perform a self-assessement (e.g. answer some questions)
  2. Next, show them how they “scored” and proceed to describe the different styles represented by your framework
  3. Proceed with instructional activities whereby participants discuss and explore the framework, connecting with their prior experiences of situations that were “easier” and “harder” for them based on their “style”
  4. Rub your hands with glee as the Forer Effect kicks in and the learners have all kinds of “aha moments”
  5. Wag your finger and make the point about the importance of respecting diverse “styles,” the importance of collaboration, the importance of adaptation, and so forth.
  6. Hopefully, end off the lesson with some sort of application exercise and/or personal next steps

Again, the topic here can be anything — presenting, negotiating, learning — but the pattern of the lesson is more or less the same.

From an instructional design point of view, there are some obvious advantages – and less-obvious pitfalls — to using a people-styles framework on these sorts of topics.  Two of these are as follows:

Advantage #1: LENS

FHow many lenses can you count, between me and you? (minimum=6)rameworks act as a lens, making it easier to see patterns in the chaos of everyday reality. In learning the framework (e.g. “Four Communication Styles”), the learner has a diagnostic mental model: they can more easily identify sets of correlated observable behaviors, in order to read and predict the underlying dynamics of a given situation.

Although I openly mocked it (in “steps 4 & 5,” above), this is actually an incredibly useful thing to have.  Life is a confusing, blurry, dirty mess… we need goggles and vision correction if we’re going to navigate it successfully.  In any event, even if you decide not to learn an “official model,” chances are you’ve probably created your own lenses… consciously or unconsciously you’ve create your own mental categories of “types of people,” so you might as well learn a more effective, generally applicable model from someone like me. 🙂

Advantage #2: SCAFFOLD

Rockefeller Tree Scaffolding 11-16-11Frameworks act as a scaffold, helping the learner gradually work their way up to mastery of the lesson. They provide some intermediate steps that help the learner achieve the end goal. For example, on the path to learning how to adapt (collaborate, lead, etc.) with different “types” of people,  the learner may have a better chance of reaching that goal if they first focus on learning their own “type.”

Once again, very useful stuff, even if it is not exactly… exact… or scientifically precise.  While human beings are infinitely diverse, a few good statistically sound shortcuts can go a long way towards building positive, healthy, and prosperous relationships. Start by understanding yourself, and you’ll be in a better position of understanding others and how you interact with them.

So far so good? Okay, let’s look at the downside.

The “Lens” and “Scaffold” advantages open up a couple of hidden pitfalls that can ultimately subvert the instructional goal, and these are “Blinders” and “Binders.”

Disadvantage #1: BLINDERS:

The risk of having a really good lens is that it becomes permanently attached to our eyeballs. When a situation arises where we need to use a completely different lens in order to successfully adapt, we’re stuck. The tool which enabled us a greater choice of responses is now causing us to act in predictable and unhelpful ways.  A common example is where the goal of a lesson is to increase the respect for others and the ability to adapt to differences, and so teaches a framework for identify some major categories of differences… but then an anti-lesson emerges instead:  The learner improves their ability of pigeonholing others and decreases the refinement of their attempts to adapt to differences that are not captured by the ‘lens.’

Disadvantage #2: BINDERS

The risk of a really good scaffold is that we get stuck in it. We pause along the way for too long and stop building… we stay perched up in the air, flailing in the wind, entranced by the beauty of the scaffolding, but we forget it’s a temporary structure… in time, it will start crumbling down and make a big mess of things. Thus is our example, if  the goal of a lesson was to increase the respect for others and the ability to adapt to differences, and the scaffold is to first learn one’s own “style”  as a way to make it easier to achieve that end goal, then the potential anti-lesson is as follows: The learner improves their self-awareness to the point of complete self-focus ( “hey, I know you said this lesson is about external focus, empathy and walking in the metaphorical shoes of others, but let’s talk some more about me…” ), and decreases their willingness to identify with differences (also known as the “Us vs. Them” or “What is Wrong with You People” Effect).

I have facilitated lessons about “communication styles” to hundreds, nay, thousands of people – and I will continue to facilitate those lessons to thousands more – and I’ve watched the process unfold where people talk themselves into a corner… their newfound levels of self-awareness morph into self-scripting. This can happen within minutes, and it only increases the longer the person stays with the framework.  I’ve observed colleagues and clients who, having mastered their knowledge of a communication styles framework, have increasingly become “more like themselves” over the years, i.e., less adaptable, with a narrower range of responses to a given stimulus.

For this reason I believe that part of the lesson of learning a framework on “style of people”– without patronizing or scolding the learner – and without undermining the lesson or confusing the point – is to how to “unlearn” the frameworks being learned.


How to Apply “Unlearning” to the Lesson?

Two final thoughts:

1) Teach how to put in the contact lenses, and also how to safely remove them.  If you’re going to build a lesson that includes a framework, include some points around where that framework might not apply…. or include more than one framework in the lesson… but make sure not to have them so close that they are confusing.   (Some additional thoughts on this in my next post.)

2)  Erect the scaffolding only if there is enough time to finish the building and clean up the construction site afterwards. This means that if you’re going to use self-awareness as a pathway to adaptation, make sure that you give enough time for the learner to stare into the mirror for a bit and then move on.  Also, structure the lesson so that they don’t stare into the mirror too long… the longer they stay in that step of the lesson, the greater the risk that they tune-out the rest of the lesson.  The “clean up” part is about how you have the learner demonstrate they’ve learned the lesson:  As your final application exercise, don’t have the learner give a presentation about their own style – that’s means you’ve left them out on the scaffolding. Rather, have them give a presentation about how they’ll adapt to other  people styles.  Now you’ve got a cleaned up construction site.

Remember, the map is not the territory… the framework’s job is to help navigate certain elements of reality, but it’s your job to fully live in reality.


Hiding and Seeking Motivators, Values and Needs

Developing a good business relationship (and for that matter, developing a good non-business relationship) with people (including ourselves) is largely a matter of playing a game of hide and seek.

Looking Into the Thicket

We hide our true needs from others, and sometimes even ourselves.

These needs are hidden in a thicket of complex (and often conflicting) beliefs, values and motivators.

The experienced player is able to intuit and satisfy those needs, without necessarily announcing out loud the hiding place.

Looking Into the Thicket II

In other words, the experienced player plays well, and doesn’t ruin the game.

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