How Has The Art Of Negotiation Evolved Since Medieval Times?


In this article we look at some examples of negotiation in literature. We start with four bible stories all featuring some kind of bargaining. Then we look at some more modern books featuring negotiation.

Abraham’s Prayer

An early example of negotiation in literature comes from the Old Testament. In Genesis, Abraham negotiates with God, pleading with him to show leniency towards the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the story, Abraham’s motivation is that his nephew Lot lives in Sodom and will perish along with the sinners of the city.

However, Abraham chooses not to base his negotiation on Lot and his family, but on the fact that many innocents will perish along with those guilty of sin. Ultimately, God destroyed Sodom but spared Lot.

Cain’s Defense

After killing his younger brother Abel and becoming the first ever murderer, God appears to Cain and punishes him by forcing him to wander the earth. Cain begins to negotiate with God and some would even say, that Cain manipulates Him.

Cain says to God that if he is cast out of Eden he will be killed. God responds by placing a mark on Cain that serves as warning to any would be assassins that they will be punished severely should they kill Cain. Cain then leaves Eden having negotiated himself invincibility and founds the first city in the Land of Nod where he lives a long and prosperous life.

Rahab’s Negotiation

Another example of negotiation from the bible is the story of Rahab. Rahab was a prostitute working in Jericho which was a pagan city at the time. One day two Israelite spies entered her home and soon after the King’s guardsmen arrive in search of the spies. Rahab answered the door and lied that the spies had been here but had left some time ago.

The guards believed her and left. Rahab knew that the Israelites would soon overthrow the city so she struck a bargain with the spies. She promised not to betray them in return that her and her family be spared when the overthrow began. A deal was struck and Rahab and her entire family were saved. Later in life Rahab would marry one of the spies.

Rachel Hires Out Jacob

One of the most bizarre examples of negotiation is the story of Rachel, Leah and Jacob. Put simply, Rachel desires some of Leah’s crops so she offers her husband Jacob’s ‘services’ in return for them. Leah accepts and spends the night with Jacob. Jacob and Leah went on to have three children together.

Attic Greek Aristophanes

‘Attic Greek’ is a play by the ancient Greek poet Aristophanes and is one of his few surviving works. It was first performed in around 411 BC and is the comic tale of one woman’s determination to put an end to the brutal Peloponnesian War. She does this by attempting to persuade the men of Greece to negotiate peace by persuading the women to withdraw sexual privileges from their lovers and husbands.

First she must negotiate with the female population, convincing them that her plan is viable. Once the women are on side she turns her attention to the men, trying to persuade them to start their negotiations to end the war. Although a light-hearted piece, Attic Greek is a good example of the ‘chain of negotiation’ achieving an overall goal by securing two or more smaller goals.

Michael Corleone in The Godfather

No, not the horse’s head but a more civilized piece of negotiation from this classic modern novel. Michael, now acting as the Don, needs to negotiate with Mo Green, a powerful gangster, so that the family can buy a piece of the Las Vegas casino scene. During negotiations, Corleone employs several classic negotiation techniques.

Firstly, he does his research. He knows Green’s business inside out. Secondly, he keeps his cool, even when Mo Green starts to becomes angry. Lastly, he saves some of his cards for later on in the negotiation; he doesn’t lay all of his cards on the table right from the start, this has the effect of knocking Green of his stride. From then on, there is only one winner.

Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

‘Getting to YES’ was first published in 1981 and quickly became a best-seller. The authors, William L. Ury and Roger Fisher, detail a method of negotiation called ‘principled negotiation’ also known as ‘negotiation of merits.’

The method tries to find acceptable solutions by identifying those needs which are fixed and immovable and which are, to some degree at least, flexible and open to negotiation. The book was reissued in the early 1990s with a new writing credit being given to Bruce Patton. Even today, Getting to YES still appears on longest running best seller lists.

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This guest post was written by Rachel Glover, an expert negotiator of extra toppings at her local ice-cream parlour! Learn more about negotiation online at The Gap Partnership.

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