Negotiation Mastery Blog

A Celebrity’s Guide to Negotiation

I thought I would take a quick romp through history to see if there are any lessons to be learnt about the art of negotiation from some of the famous figures and celebrities from the present and past.

Lyndon B Johnson & Indira Gandhi

Lesson: flirt outrageously with your counterparty.

The love-in between these two leaders took place on Gandhi’s first state visit to America. The young Indian Prime Minister fluttered her eyelashes and the effect on Johnson was immediate. He turned on all his Texan charm and flirted every bit as much as she did. Calling her “little lady”, he asked her to dance with him at a White House reception, drinking late into the night with her and inviting himself to another dinner she was attending.

It may not have been quite as romantic as Cleopatra and Mark Anthony or Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (what did happen to their love-child?), but there was certainly a vibe, if you get my drift, and the American food and financial aid package to India increased substantially.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to flirt, build rapport; it goes a long way. Gandhi and Nixon, Johnson’s successor, hated each other, Nixon called her “the old witch”. The aid package dropped immediately.

Vladimir Putin

Lesson: Watch out, there are some nasty people about!

If you’re a billionaire, you might think you’re pretty powerful. Especially if you’re a Russian billionaire because almost certainly you got to that position by being a bit of a gangster. Russian negotiation tactics notoriously involve such practices as dangling your counterparty out of the window by their legs.

But there is always someone bigger and scarier than you, whoever you are.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, once locked Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire metals magnate, in a room, threw a pen at him and forced him to sign a contract to save a failing factory. Robert Dudley, current Chief Exec of BP, was forced to flee the country and go briefly into hiding.

But all of that is baby stuff compared to how he has dealt with the oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. His simple approach to negotiation here was to put Khodorkovsky in jail for 7 years on trumped up fraud charges. “Let’s negotiate now, shall we, Mr Khodorkovsky?”.

Ronald Thwaites, QC

Lesson: If you’re negotiating with Vladimir Putin, get Ronald Thwaites on your side.

“There’s nothing personal about it, if I attack you and rip your arms and legs off and I nail your bleeding carcass to the witness box, its nothing I’ve got against you”. A nice quote from Ronald Thwaites QC, the famous and friendly criminal lawyer.

I often wonder who would win in a fight between a lion and tiger, or a shark and a crocodile, or Vladimir Putin and Ronald Thwaites. Or a fight between any of them really.

Val Doonican’s Mum

Lesson: Treat yourself with respect, treat others with respect and they, in turn, will treat you with respect.

In the wise words of advice the great Val Doonican received from his mum:

“She said son, be a proud man and hold your head up high. Walk tall, walk tall and look the world right in the eye.”

Very, very true, Mrs Doonican. And with his cardigans and rocking-chair, who could doubt your son’s credibility.

Genghis Khan

Lesson: Even scary people are open to going win-win.

Contrary to his popular reputation, Genghis Khan was a force for civilisation. In building an empire that was to stretch from Korea to Vienna, he introduced a legal code, a standardised script, a mail system, religious freedom, cultural tolerance, a (largely) meritocratic government, free commerce and a generally better living standard.

Clearly, he could have better PR.

Ok, I admit, he did some pretty bad things too. He could be brutal and he ordered many massacres. But remember, this was the 12th century and massacres was what they did in those days.

But the point is it was rarely his first choice. On the contrary, he would offer cities and states the chance to join him peacefully and those that did gained in culture and prosperity from doing so. It was a genuine win-win solution.

Of course, if they did not take this option, he would gladly do win-lose – and he would do it very well. Nobody won an arm-wrestle with Genghis Khan.

(Footnote: I do not advocate massacre as a specific negotiation tactic).

The Family Spratt

Lesson: Work together to solve the problem and everyone wins

Jack Spratt could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean.

And so betwixt the two of them They licked the platter clean.

Work together and everyone wins! It could hardly be expressed more clearly.

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In all, a light little romp but who said truth and humour are mutually exclusive?