What Leaders Can Learn from Wild Animal Trainers
We often suggest looking at experts in non-related fields to gain insights into best practices. I thought this was a very interesting example
A command and control leadership style may have its time and place. But at the negotiation table? You may find concession-making skills will work more in your favor. When I last spoke with negotiation expert George Kohlrieser, he eloquently compared the delicate dance between an animal trainer and animal to managing concessions during negotiations.
Concession making can be material or it can be in the relationship. If we're in a heated debate in negotiation and you suddenly answer my question or you ask me a question, that's a concession. I have to take time to reward that concession. It’s almost Pavlovian.
How do I train the person I'm talking with to respond to the law of reciprocity, being able to make concessions and be able to recognize when they're given one? It may be a little concession, just answering questions, or by being cooperative.
My friend Alfredo is a wild animal trainer; he's third generation. When he goes into that cage and cracks that whip, he wants to get their attention. Then the negotiation starts. He's the boss. He's in charge but he doesn't dominate. It’s not command and control.
When he goes forward, the lion steps back and when the lion stops, Alfredo has to stop and step back. And then the lion relaxes and comes forward. And if Alfredo then moves forward one step, two steps, the lion steps back the same.
He can take those lions anywhere in that cage through the law of reciprocity; it’s a dance.
It’s all about the bonding. How you respect the animal? He has this whole philosophy of knowing the animal’s names, knowing their mood. Knowing what is going on in the group of lions that are there, or whatever wild animals he's training.
But if he steps forward and the lion stops -- he doesn't make a concession -- and Alfredo moves again, he's likely to be attacked. It’s an act of aggression. It is what's called iatrogenic (describes a symptom or illness brought on unintentionally by something that a doctor does or says) violence. This very often happens with leaders. They push and they push. They don't recognize concessions, and they don't use this dance of give and take, the dance of bonding. The dance of flow.
Negotiation is a fun thing. It should be an enjoyable and it should be an exchange. It doesn't have to be where you're trying to destroy and get everything. It’s the ability to look for mutual gain.