Negotiating with mammoths

Negotiations expert and psychologist Dr James R. Álvarez tells Dialogue how to negotiate with the world’s biggest organizations

The Vatican. Government. Universities. Disneyworld. Google.

Similar to individuals, corporations like these can enter into contracts, hire employees, and own assets.

That, however, is where the similarity stops.

Lawyers often refer to corporations as “legal persons” to highlight one major difference between us – a corporation, a ‘legal person’, is not just one single person.

“Legal persons” can have thousands of members, dozens of secrets and more resources than we can imagine.

Like the lone caveman facing a gargantuan, thick-skinned woolly mammoth, negotiating with corporations can seem intimidating, time consuming, and leave you feeling helpless and steam-rolled.

But when it comes to negotiating with mammoths, are we really just cavemen armed with sticks?

Should you ever find yourself facing a metaphorical mammoth, I suggest you take into account what gives a corporation its size and power: its people.

Corporations are made up of people – and, somehow, negotiating with an individual seems a lot more reasonable that facing a woolly mammoth.

Once you have found your person, the main things you need to remember are:

1) People aren’t against you. They are for themselves. Figure out how you can help them, and you increase the chances of them helping you.

2) Resistance from the other party is usually about control and vulnerability. Make sure that what you are looking for does not make the other side feel vulnerable or not in control. 

And, finally…

3) Humans are the foothold in the wall, the first point of ascent; remembering and working with the fact that organizations (of all shapes and sizes) are made up of human beings is the skilled negotiator’s way in.                                                                                                                

We may be cavemen with sticks, but, really, so are they. 

Dr James R. Álvarez has spent the last 21 years working in business negotiations and change management, previously handling hostage negotiations for the NYPD, Scotland Yard and the Kidnap for Ransom insurance industry. He is also a qualified clinical, forensic and organizational psychologist.