Negotiation and evolutionary psychology – a look at our nature


A couple disparate events came together to form the basis for this post. One is my rediscovery of my interest in evolutionary psychology. The other is a random PR guy on the BBC breakfast show this morning. On a side note, I’m mentioning this show for the last time, because it is simply unwatchable. I put it on while feeding the baby at 7 AM, and was tempted to knock back some of the formula milk.

Let’s start with the random PR guy. ‘Breakfast’ wanted to discuss the Facebook IPO and realized they needed an angle apart from the purely financial aspects. So, they trotted out some guy to provide the expected, but painfully misguided idea that Facebook has cemented its place as our number one social media platform…forever. Random PR guy, meet book, book, random PR guy.

So why mention this? The point is that we are all biased – some more than others – and possibly irrevocably so. It is the same reason that some people believe they are the first one to develop new approaches to marketing, procurement, accounting, strategy or operations that have established a new framework which will then last forever. And develop the ego to go with it.

History vehemently disagrees, and although that is sort of known – again, some people are widely read while others are too busy enlightening the world – it gets conveniently pushed to the background. Certain approaches fit well in certain environments, but then the environment inevitably changes in a big way (here is where you go back and reference Black Swan and/or Fooled By Randomness).

The same human nature that causes the “I’m super-special” bias (have I just coined a term?) also was kind enough to bring us the “I am incapable of being in a true partnership” bias. If you are super-special, why should you partner with anyone? They will only mask your brilliance.

We have seen obvious examples of negotiations that are crying out for a true partnership (NFL and the NFL players union) for example. Companies with their main suppliers. CEOs with key executives. There are only a very small percentage that are able to break through the desire to pull leverage games, degrade the other side, and invent reasons why you are superior. This feeling comes through in every interaction and trust is broken down. In game theory terms, the recipient’s optimal strategy is then risk minimization mode…which then prevents reaching the larger prize.

If you are that guy, you most likely don’t know it. But give listening a shot and you may be surprised.

The Black Swan (film)

Random Black Swan photo. People like pretty pictures. The Black Swan (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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