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Nature is against you: How your negotiation style is hardwired into your DNA.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-angry-caveman-image19764879My ancestors really screwed up my negotiation style.  Yours too.  I mean, my ancestors didn’t screw you, but yours sure did… those bastards. I can prove it too, but you’ll have to bare with a short history lesson first.

Human beings have been around for about 200,000 years and our evolution traces back 2.5 million, according to a 20 second google search.  If you figure that over the centuries our ancestors probably procreated on average at the age of around 15 or 16, that means we are at least 12,500 generations old.  In other words, all of us have around 25,0000 direct ancestors, each of which passed along a genetic footprint to us. That’s a lot of footprints.  Kind of makes you feel dirty, doesn’t it?

In these genes our instincts got encoded and passed along.  Some of these instincts are very useful, like the urge to stay away from open flames, clothe ourselves in sub-zero temperatures and walk long distances to have sex with every cavelady/ man we could find!  I’m glad these genes got passed on to us.

There are others, however, that I’m sure where once helpful, but are really making life difficult today.

Take fight or flight for example.  This was probably a very usefully instinct back in my great, great, to the power of great grandfather Krog Green’s day.   I can picture it now- hanging out in the cave on an average caveman day when a strange noise comes from just outside.

Instead of formulating and testing a series of hypotheses about the origin of said noise Krog reacts by swinging his club violently and screaming at the top of his lungs.  He’s clubbed everything in sight before a rational thought passes through his walnut sized caveman brain.

That knee jerk, spastic reaction was probably really useful for keeping away dangerous dinosaurs… or whatever cavemen dealt with back in the day (my history may be a little off).   Today it’s a major pain in the ass.

For example, you remember that time when you freaked out on that colleague for giving orders to your team behind your back?  That’s today’s version of instinctually throwing a spear the entrance of our cave.  Or that time you froze up during that big presentation to the board?  That’s the 21st Century hangover of our need to run from saber-toothed cats.  The software that our brains were built on is a tad outdated .

So don’t worry, yelling and over reacting are almost never your fault.  It’s that damn Krog’s!

We know that we should respond with something more constructive when someone steps on our toes, but we often don’t realize what we’re saying until after the fact.  There is a rational reason we have seemingly automatic, instinctual responses to implicit threats to our commission, status and authority on the job.  They just happen to come out in ways that lose us business and damage our reputation at work…..  Damn you Krog!

We’ve got a lot of this kind of behavior in our DNA.  And it consistently stops us from interacting the way negotiation theory and other best practice advice tell us to behave.  It’s an uphill battle you are fighting everyday.

This is one of the reasons negotiating well seems so hard.  You’re not just learning a new skill here, you’re fighting millions of years of evolution!

Fortunately, there’s hope.  Krog’s wife left us some genes too.  More on that next time.

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About the author: Hi I’m Dan Green, blogger, entrepreneur, documentary film producer and negotiation specialist. I’ve helped executives negotiate deals worth up to 400 million USD. But before you read on…

2 comments… add one

  • Again, good article. I found this “Negotiation is probably as old as mankind itself and was born out of Homo Sapiens’ early struggles for survival and dominance.” (Richard Lewis Communications). What are you thoughts on it?

  • Stephanie Harris

    Hi Dan,

    Great blog post! I’d never thought about negotiation in this way before. I definitely think your right that its an instinct reaction when dealing with negotiation. Have a look at my recent blog post on negotiating in 2015 and see if you agree with any of my top tips! http://t.co/K1HOtOaur0

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