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Muhammad Says Knock You Out!

Alan Smith
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Been a very bad year for my heroes so far.

The loss of David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Fry, Victoria Wood and now the sporting legend that was Muhammad Ali. Tragic.

If you have not read the Fight by Norman Mailer, you should. The description of the legendary fight between Ali and George Foreman has to be one of the best books ever written about sport. Even for a non-fight-lover it is a brutal study of the pugilist’s skill. Mailer describes the dynamics of the battle in graphic detail comparing it to a chess match and to a piece of art.

He also records controversially that the referee loosens the tightness of the ropes to allow Ali to lean back more when doing his "rope-a-dope”, permitting Ali to better absorb the onslaught of a man who would destroy the inner organs of a normal man with one blow.

During the fight an enraged Foreman grows increasingly weary, allowing Ali to eventually take control of the bout and knock him down. With hindsight Ali’s clear (and dangerous) strategy was to let Foreman blow himself out before delivering the killer punch. You can see that echoed in the pre fight ‘banter’, sledging or pre conditioning as a negotiator may call it.

Ali was the master self publication. His hype and showmanship was perhaps designed to create commercial interest and the fact that he was the first fighter to earn £1 million for a single event is testament to his skill at it.

“I done something new for this fight. I wrestled with an alligator. I tussled with a whale. I handcuffed lightening. I thrown thunder in jail. Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick!” was his flamboyant rant before the Rumble in the Jungle.

But this kind of pre-conditioning happens in many other types of conflict even if they are not quite so abrasive as boxing.

Imagine you are planning to start commercial negotiations with the other party. Take a sales example:

You telephone to confirm the appointment and the buyer says, aggressively: “Don’t bother showing up if you are going to tell me about price increases. You’ll be wasting your time and I will be forced to speak to your competitors”.

When you arrive you are kept waiting in reception for half an hour, with no explanation. As you walk into the other person’s office they indicate for you to sit down, but they don’t look up. Instead, they sit leafing through your competitor’s brochure, in silence, ignoring your efforts to make conversation.

At this stage, how confident do you feel?

These are tactics, and there are lots of them, used on either side of the fence. The trained negotiator sees them for what they are and once they are recognised as tactics, their effects are reduced, or eliminated.

If you let them rile you, you might end up losing focus and value

Stay in control and you’ve got more chance to win through.

Alan Smith

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