When negotiating, someone forces us to act in an emotional and instinctive way. That “someone”, present in each of us, holds part of our instincts and habits that direct our behavior. It is the Cro-Magnon that we all have inside of us. It is our perpetual companion that refuses to be controlled because it caters more to instincts and emotions rather than reason.

This Cro-Magnon directed the behavior of your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather and grandfather of your great grandfather. The forty thousand years separating you from your ancestor were not enough to erase that legacy. So, whenever you negotiate you will be accompanied by your “caveman”. Your counterpart does not come to the negotiation alone either. A negotiation is an encounter in which two rational and two irrational beings face off.

Has it ever happened that you head towards your car where you usually park it and it is not there? It is somewhere else you found by chance. Cro-Magnon habits have automatically led you to the same spot where you usually parked your car.

Why do you get irritated when you are in a traffic jam? It is that natural Cro-Magnon aggressiveness that gave him the necessary energy to hunt. Without that aggression, he could not defend his territory against intruders, protect his children and multiply.

Why is it hard for you to remain silent when you are with a stranger in an elevator? You feel invaded and talk about the weather or fiddle with your phone. It is a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere, like the jungle thousands of years ago, when complete silence reigned. There is nothing that wowed the Cro-Magnon man more than the invisible force of silence that disturbed him. The natural aggressiveness, the overflowing emotions, fear and habits have left traces in your subconscious and direct your behavior out of reason when you negotiate.

Picture this to clear all your doubts. When you see a long line of cars waiting for the light to turn green, cut in front of all of them. Observe the drivers faces from your rearview mirror: faces of the other world in which we live. You will see primitive creatures of the past, threatening, and gesticulating. When a referee whistles a penalty against the spectator´s team at your side, take a good look. The gentle and exemplary citizen disappears as if by magic and in his place, you will discover a scruffy, long-haired person who begins to shout and gesture violently with a mallet. We all have primitive reactions.

Ask a person to extend their arms toward you with open palms. Now put your palms against theirs and start pushing them, what do you think the other will do? When you push someone, you will receive the same force and in the opposite way. Do you give up then? No way. If you give in, you will show weakness and they will exploit you even more. If you push hard and are victorious, you will not win because you have hurt the other’s pride. “Devour or be devoured” this is what the inexperienced negotiators think when they justify the use of dishonest tactics to defeat the other. They are entrenched in a position because they do not know another way to negotiate. They use the same tactics they learned in childhood when they played in the sand with other children. Win or lose. They certainly do not plan to lose.

  • Husband: What do you want us to do this weekend?
  • Wife: I’m going out to play tennis with my friends.
  • Husband: Again, to play tennis?
  • Wife: You, the one that doesn´t even move!
  • Husband: I don´t move? What happens is that …
  • Wife: Excuse me, do not get defensive.
  • Husband: Defensive? The one who gets defensive is you!
  • Wife: This is the last straw! And now you yell at me.
  • Husband: Yelling at you?! The only one who is yelling here is you. I am sick and tired of always…
  • Wife: Sick and tired of what? You are the one who is out and about all day, when I call you on the phone there is no way to find you when …
  • Husband: Look who was talking! You get to go out with your fancy friends and I have to stay at home waiting for the diva?
  • Wife: Diva? Do not insult me!
  • Husband: I´m insulting you? What do you know about insults?

Sound familiar? A “natural” behavior will move you further away.  A “conscious” behavior will bring you closer and increase your effectiveness. You’ll make better deals. People are reaction machines. When you are attacked, your primitive reaction is to counterattack, to respond “fight fire with fire”. That is what many pedantic negotiators who just want to score a little in front of their boss do. They are recognized because they say phrases like “let’s give the enemy a taste of their own medicine.” This strategy leads to useless and costly clashes for your company.

Repeated argument only aggravates

When you use force against the other, you are giving your opponent the perfect excuse to continue with their obstinacy. That will increase tensions until the situation becomes a shouting championship, a lawsuit or a war. Counterattacking damages long-term relationships and it converts a simple rational discrepancy into an emotional confrontation. You may win a battle but will risk losing the war. There are negotiators who like hard play and wait for you to attack them to put you in that area where they are experts and where you feel uncomfortable. You will be trapped.

When your emotion is high, your intelligence is low.

That “feeling that overpowers me” is your Cro-Magnon who wants to come out and slap people around. There are no shortcuts, be patient. It’s not a ping pong game. If they throw you a ball you have no obligation to answer.

Are you the first obstacle to effective negotiation? No matter how big the company you negotiate with is and how much power that company has in the market, you always negotiate with people. These people like you, want and need to reach an agreement. The conversation with them is only a part of what is really happening, something more than a mere exchange of words occurs. Think of how weak words sound when a mother wants to express all the love she feels for her child. Or how unhelpful words are when we tell a panicked person to calm down. Little do words help when it is the emotion that dominates the situation!

 You stop listening and you react instinctively to the other’s words because they annoy you. You defend yourself and you seek more arguments to convince her that they she is the one who is wrong. That behavior is what you should change if you want to negotiate as a pro. Is a zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes? It is a question of different points of view.

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