There’s a scene in the first “Star Wars” film (Episode IV, of course) in which our heroes are attempting to smuggle a pair of robots past the evil Imperial troops in their escape from space port, Mos Eisley. As luck would have it, one of our heroes is a Jedi master – and hence capable of some pretty impressive tricks, including mind control. The imperial troops succumb easily, our heroes pass the checkpoint and make good their escape. Easy as it is to dismiss this sci-fi fantasy as a daft fiction, many of us are quite happy to imagine that we, too, wield the ability to control others’ thoughts. Here are but three examples that some of our negotiation course participants have attempted.
The MK-Ultra: a technique named in honour of the CIA’s experiments over the decades around the ability to project thoughts over hundreds of miles (through a theoretical process known as “remote viewing”). Our intrepid negotiator has certainty on their side: “Well: I know what I want – why on earth don’t you?” – the other side of the table is never that far away, after all. As the long wait for their thoughts to transmit across the table continued, it does – sometimes - eventually occur that saying what they want may well be a better alternative. As indeed it is.
The “Make me an offer”: sometimes, unsure about where to pitch, or perhaps anxious that their estimate on what was realistic was going to be wildly inaccurate, negotiators try this technique. Surely it’s simple to manoeuvre the other party into a position that would suit them very well indeed – the only problem being that the resulting offer almost always involves a position that suits the other party very well indeed. Usually a significant distance from their own desired position. However, the solution to this problem? The Very British Smile.
The Very British Smile: so, the other party have made a proposal so outlandish – and let’s be frank, absurd – that our negotiator’s only option is to smile politely, thank them and say that there’s plenty to think about, right there. Automatically they’ll understand the precariousness of their situation and that the proposal is dead in the water. When, after a period of time, they get annoyed that their proposal remains unaccepted – indeed, there was interest expressed in it – it will be their fault. Realising this, and with sincere apologies, they will make a radically amended proposal (unfortunately, the technique tends to break down at this point, necessitating alternative means of driving the deal forward, but still). It’s a small but interesting insight, but I have observed that being British is entirely unnecessary when it comes to applying this particular technique.
OK, so we’re unlikely to really think that we’re pulling the strings for the other side of the table, but the number of times we observe apparent mind control attempts on our courses? Too many to count. And influencing the other party through nonverbal communication can be an effective part of the mix, so we’re not about to dismiss it entirely – but we are all about making sure that negotiators recognise the situations they find themselves in, and that they have a range of options from which they can choose to pursue their interests as effectively as they can. And recognising that Jedi mind tricks belong in a different universe can be a good place to start, sometimes.