What Is Perceived and How May It Affect How I Negotiate My Life (and our future)?

What Is Perceived and How May It Affect How I Negotiate My Life (and our future)?

“The are no facts, only interpretations.” Friedrich Nietzsche

In these days of turmoil, challenge, wall builders and opportunity, be conscious of your own interpretations.


A beautiful warm sunny day in Tulum, Mexico and a sense of adventure had me wanting a journey. I spoke to some travelers experienced in this area and a local guide that opened our journey to Mayan temples hidden in the forests and in the mangroves. “Is it safe to travel alone in this part of Mexico by car?” I inquired. The answers may be stated as “yes, as long as you stay off the smaller highways and roads after dark.” And “If the police signal you to stop, unless you know you have done something very wrong, don’t stop.” “Be Careful.”

So I rented a car and explored parts of the Yucatan away from the tourists. Punta Allen was recommended to me by a local as a beautiful untouched tiny fishing village an hour’s drive on a muddy road down a peninsula just outside the Biosphere. One evening as the dawn set, I drove down that tiny road. At places, you could see the Caribbean on your left and the inland waters on the right. Most of the time, as I drove slowly down that road all I could see were trees surrounding the road and allowing no view beyond the sides of the road.

As the darkness was almost complete, a pickup truck with 8 men in the back carrying machine guns slowly passed by. Entering the tiny fishing village, it soon became apparent the only people outside of the locked gates and derelict buildings were those men in the truck and others drinking outside a closed cafe on the beach. My intuition said; “better create some space between me and all this, this is not feeling right.” With others and in daylight this tiny place would have been more welcoming.

Driving in total darkness now, I headed back up the narrow muddy road. Ten minutes in, a vehicle came from behind. As I edged over to let them pass, I could not see faces but I could see there were four adults. After they passed, their vehicle stopped. I stopped about ten meters behind. All I could see in my headlights were the backs of the four and the bottoms of the trees hugging the sides of the narrow dirt road. I locked my doors. I waited. And waited. After ten minutes, I knew there was no reason to back up and no place to go sideways. I gradually moved to the left to indicate I wished to pass. Their vehicle moved to further block my way. So I stopped, still 5 meters behind. Waited and waited to see might happen next. In my rear-view mirror, I saw distant headlights coming. Was this the pickup truck and men? My mind/ fears went to “stay off the smaller highways and roads after dark.” What are my options and strategies? What is negotiable from this place?

A full twenty minutes after the dark vehicle stopped in front, the car in front slowly moved forward. I slowly followed. And then the reason for all this was revealed in my dim headlights on that narrow muddy road; late at night crabs cross the road moving from one large body of water to another. The dark vehicle that acted so strangely (and ominously) was protecting those crabs. No bandits here; more like environmentalists! And for the next ninety minutes, I too slowed/ stopped every time I could see crabs on the road in their migration.


This experience a few years ago reminded me that what we see, what we believe, what we know …is only our interpretation given our experiences, information, senses, and judgments. What we project as real may not be real at all.

“The are no facts, only interpretations.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Through my work with my partners at the Global Negotiation Insight Institute, the Collaborative Global Initiative and Rotary International, I have learned that curiosity, being open to all our wisdom, embracing diversity of opinion, having a future focus and allowing space for those that come from a different place is a powerful way of allowing agreements to be built that may never have otherwise. My lack of information and increasing concern for my safety could have led me to very different actions and outcomes.

What perceptions get in the way of allowing agreements to be built by you that may never have otherwise? What assumptions are you making about the other? When do you wish you would have known more, acted differently, invested in a negotiation with different people…? How might you further develop your awareness of your own barriers? Where are the crab crossings in your life?

In these days of turmoil, challenge, wall builders and opportunity, be conscious of your own interpretations. My friends in America are faced with a political choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. My friends in France are faced with 30% unemployment for the young. My recording engineer in Croatia, has complete distrust of any government. Europe is failing. America is failing. The world is failing.

Or is it? Is it our perception based on our information sources like Twitter, Facebook and other, often, anti-social media? Or from the global news media that sees controversy and conflict as the way to boost revenues? Or our own lack of awareness of our history, global community and natural environment? Right vs wrong. Me vs. you. Us vs them. Where are the holistic compassionate and innovative perspectives? Are they “terrorists” or mentally ill? Is free trade anti-economics? What are the words and perspectives you share with your family, company, and community? How are you seen? What are the possibilities you may unlock? And why?

“All entities are “special interest groups.” Companies, political parties, environmental organizations, news media, natives and communities all tend to narrow their perspective (i.e. biases) and energize their own prejudices to advance their personal interests. These interests may be capital projects ranging from thousands of dollars to billions of dollars. These interests may be to generate funds or votes. These interests may serve the organizations or collectives in many different ways. But each “special interest” tends to be communicated in black and white, good and bad, right versus wrong.

What methods might be more productive and meaningful than the dualistic argument? A good start would be to cultivate a personal awareness and take action in all our relationships, work, and purchasing choices.

Throughout my career, I have sought to bring together diverse perspectives and expertise to identify and re-align people, processes, regulations and terms of engagement, so that the “good guys win” and the “bad guys” don’t get rewarded for misbehaving. Far too often, our political, legal and regulatory processes favor those that seek power over justice and the public interest. Too often, the organizations with the power run over those that don’t possess the same resources. Too often, special-interest groups run over the interests of the community. This is about what is right and how that is determined.” Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration by David B. Savage

Where May This Take Me?

What is going on for me, what are my values, what are my interests and how may I communicate and listen from there. From there, I can then mine for the underlying interest of the other, develop my BATNA and WATNA and come from a place of clarity and respect for the other and myself.

My best alternative to a negotiated agreement and my worst alternative when clearly developed and established in advance of the negotiation allow me to be clear on my boundaries; where I will play and where I will not.

A key lesson in negotiations that North Americans have often failed to appreciate (at our own risk in international negotiations or those here with persons from other cultures); you must go slow before you can go fast.

Where are your blind spots? What are you unaware of? What are your triggers? How can you make far better deals for your organization and your family?

With the success of the virtual reality game Pokémon Go and the worry that the Republican nominee for President of the United States is far too reactionary and narrow-minded, I witness a new American political game. This game may be called Poke Trump Go. Post something on Twitter and see how you can get The Donald to react. Dualistic and short interest based world views can create chaos. Let’s do something different.

“Imagine a new game: a conversation that each of us practices every time we meet outrage or prejudice. You can play today when you encounter a person telling you something that is clearly tinged with “We must take action!” This may be anything where the communicator is certain the other side/opponent/ enemy is wrong. Examples are far ranging and you will find a great many. They may include public healthcare; oil fracking; professional sports; renew- able energy; right vs. left; green vs. greed. The list is endless. Instead of agreeing with one side or the other, allow yourself to engage in the simple game that can take five minutes or 50. The simple rules are that you act in truth, respect, and curiosity. Here are 10 steps to playing the “learning together” game:

  1. Select a hot topic
  2. Seek agreement on how each of you will play this game
  3. Have at least three debaters each taking different positions
  4. Debate fairly and passionately
  5. Identify what is keeping you from agreement
  6. Identify what you need to know
  7. Identify how you will find that out
  8. Establish a plan to find out your truth
  9. Check back in once you complete the fact-finding, and
  10. Celebrate your collaboration and learning together.”

Excerpt Break Through To Yes.

Checking, Creating and Ensuring;

To develop and succeed in agreement building that serves you and your organization in the best way, don’t be a lazy negotiator! Take the time to develop and reach agreement on your negotiation process, values, desired outcomes, limits, and alternatives. As in dispute resolution and in the mediation process, invest the majority of your time designing the alliance, the resources/ authorities do we need, the rules of engagement, how we get this done to benefit us both, what is the time-line and what are we accountable for? In most negotiations, the time spent actually negotiating terms should be less than a third.

Some will say; “that’s a big time waster” or “my deal isn’t that complex”. What I know is without an agreement as to how we negotiate and shared expectations for time, costs, values, and outcomes; many deals die or never reach their potential. My experience in our industry is that sending a positional one-dimensional email and expecting a positive and timely response are most often mutually exclusive. Even on the small deals, try establishing the framework and who we will be in this negotiation first. You will be rewarded with a little new territory and some very effective outcomes. If the other party has no interest in this approach, take that as a signal that they may be old school, hard-nosed, this is not a priority for them or even they are afraid of you. With that awareness, you may adjust how you negotiate with them and even whether you do negotiate with them. The relationships you build and the time you save in the long run will be significant.

Negotiating is an important part of every day in every part of our lives. Growing your awareness, preparing better, checking perceptions, allowing differences and developing stronger business relationships are some of the reasons I invite you to try new things and find what serves you best. What serves you best will be to develop a wide range of negotiating skills and an awareness of when to employ them. And that journey is far more fun and interesting than sending a one-dimensional note looking to make the same deal you have made for years. Times are far more demanding; our stakeholders are far more demanding as well.

Negotiation mastery is not about hard-line positions or even winning specific deals. Negotiation mastery is about presence, connection, and mutual exploration to create meaningful, sustainable and significant success together. Such outcomes are those that may never have been believed possible before the negotiation commenced.

PS: The crabs all got to the other side without any robberies involved. Life isn’t always like that but checking perceptions, being mindful and creating pre-negotiating agreements are ways to get you to the warmer water.

In my 2016 book, Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration, I use a forest as a metaphor for the destruction, isolation, and short-sightedness often seen in our business, personal and political relationships.

“What could we do when our root systems and entire ecosystem we helped support were so tragically and selfishly damaged. Many trees simply fell. We are now a gravel pit, with a trailer, trucks, fence and a very few Tamarack, Ponderosa Pine, Fir, and Birch. We hope that over the next 150 years, we will recover this ecosystem, but few of us believe it. This ecosystem is our collaboration. In the wind, we hear more chainsaws repeating their devastating mistake down the road. We wish these humans could bring us into their consciousness. We wish the wildlife had a presence here as well. Where are the humans that could have informed these men? Where is the collective wisdom? Why must we be isolated and then damaged. We dream of change.”

Together we will realize our dream of change. Come together, include all our voices, embrace conflict, innovate, and create better “shared” future.

By David B. Savage, author of Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration which includes the 10 Essential Steps to Collaboration.dbs.sitegeeks.net

Part of this article was previously published in The Negotiator and the Association for Conflict Resolution magazines.

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David B Savage

David B Savage