Outwitting the Leopard: Deception at the Negotiating Table

The other day a friend emailed me the following joke, which has circulated widely on the internet:

A wealthy old lady decides to go on a photo safari in Africa, taking her faithful aged poodle, Cuddles, along for company. One day the poodle starts chasing butterflies and before long, Cuddles discovers that he’s lost. Wandering about, he notices a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old poodle thinks, “Uh, oh! I’m in deep trouble now!” Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the leopard is about to leap, the old poodle exclaims loudly, “Boy, that was one delicious leopard! I wonder if there are any more around here?” Hearing this, the young leopard halts his attack in mid-strike. Terrified, he slinks away into the trees. “Whew,” says the leopard, “that was close! That old poodle nearly had me!”

Meanwhile, a monkey who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard. So off he goes, but the old poodle sees him heading after the leopard with great speed and figures that something must be up. The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard.  The young leopard is furious at being made a fool of and says, “Here, monkey, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving canine!”

The old poodle sees the leopard approaching with the monkey on his back and thinks, “What am I going to do now?”, but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn’t seen them yet. Just when they get close enough to hear him, the old poodle says, “Where’s that damn monkey? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another leopard!”

I like this joke. Not only is it workplace safe, it’s funny, builds suspense, and ends with an unexpected twist. Best of all, it inspires a lesson or two about negotiation.  After all, in negotiation, you have to be clever enough to spot trouble when it’s coming, and nimble to respond to change and new information. You also must be careful not to underestimate the resourcefulness of any of your fellow players at the table — as the monkey unhappily discovers.

In real-world negotiations, it’s a safe bet that none of us will ever have to outsmart a cunning poodle or a talking leopard and his monkey sidekick.  But how can we protect ourselves from those who would deceive us?  A recent paper considers deception at the negotiating table in “Was Machiavelli Right? Lying in Negotiation and the Art of Defensive Self-Help“. From the article:

…lawyers, businesspeople, and everyone else who engages in negotiation must learn how to carefully and purposefully implement strategies and behaviors to defend themselves against those who lie and deceive—no matter the reasons prompting it. I therefore conclude the Article by offering prescriptive advice (including examples) for minimizing one’s risk of being exploited in a negotiation should other parties lie. The advice is undergirded by the notion, expressed throughout the Article, that information exchange (or lack thereof) plays a pivotal role in all negotiations. Indeed, I argue that information is the lifeblood of any negotiation, and therefore that the various strategies and behaviors influencing whether, when, and how information is obtained and/or exchanged are extremely important in the process of defending oneself (or one’s client) against lying and deception.

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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