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Blog > Negotiation Techniques


Wolves and Sledges


Are You Teaching Wolves to Chase Sledges?

This is adapted from Gavin Kennedy’s excellent book: “Everything is Negotiable.”  Please buy the book, it is truly inspirational, practical, and worth every penny.

A Cautionary Tale of Wolves and Sledges

Sven, the head of Arctic Circle Sales for a Swedish freezer food company, is chosen to lead a team selling their products to the Inuit communities of The Northern Territories of Canada.  The team use dog sledges, and carry a rifle for protection from wolves and other predators.

One day, Sven is sledging home when he hears a wolf howl.  In moments, a lean mean, wolf is chasing him and the dog team.  Unfortunately, he’s used his last bullet to shoot a moose for food.  Thinking laterally, he chops a leg of the moose corpse, and throws it to the wolf in hot pursuit.  Luckily for Sven and the dogs, the wolf takes the proffered gift and ceases to chase the sledge.

At the next team meeting, Sven tells his tale, and it is agreed that all salespeople will carry meat with them in future in case of pursuit by wolves.

For three months this strategy works brilliantly, and Sven becomes the toast of the Sales Team.

As dusk is falling one evening, Sven is sledging home once more, and, as had become the custom, the lone wolf began chasing the sledge again.  Sven took this with good nature - as if he had a bond with the wolf - almost an old friend.  But this time he heard the howls of additional wolves.  “Here you go, boy!” he cried as he threw a generous chuck of moose to the wolf.  The wolf ignored it, and was joined by a pack chasing the Sven and the sledge with a fervour that Sven had not seen before.

Thinking laterally, Sven cut off more an more portions of moose, until, one by one, the whole pack had ceased to chase the dog-sledge.

“Phew!” thought Sven as he breathed his audible sigh of relief.  To his surprise, at the next sales team meeting, he discovered that he was not the only member of the team who had encountered increased numbers of hungry wolves.  The team agreed to carry more moose on their journeys, and to throw as much meat to the wolves as was necessary to gain their safe passage back to base camp.

Thankfully, this worked well for another month, and Sven was once again hailed as the hero of the day.

An Inuit village was chosen as the location for the next month’s sales meeting, and as the sales team sledged in from over the Northern Territories, they were met with a hostile wall-to-wall barrier of Inuits blocking their access to the village.

Sven, as leader, asked whether the Inuits were unhappy with the time saving, nutritious products he, and his team, had brought to the Inuits.  The Chieftain declared that they were all more than happy with the delicious frozen food.

Bemused, Sven asked, “Then, what is the problem?”

The Chieftain replied, “Until you came here, the wolves used to leave our sledges alone - now we cannot go anywhere without being chased by wolves!”

—End of Story—

As a Nation, we seemed a very pleasant cross-selection of people.  As such, we are all in danger of training wolves to chase sledges.  When we generously give concessions, this generosity will not always be reciprocated.  Tough negotiators (like wolves) will thank us for the concession and then continue to chase our sledges - knowing we will yield more.

Does this mean that we need to become equally tough?  No.  I believe that being perceived as ‘hard’ or ‘pushy’ would be anathema to many of us.  Instead we must just brand Card 8 into our consciousness until it is second nature.  For every concession we must trade - we must seek a concession in return, and these concessions must become less and less as time goes by.

When we teach wolves to chase sledges, we will discover the opposite - concessions will get larger and larger as the wolves learn to press harder.

This principle is true for all relationships.  Every time we seek to please others by making a change, we train them to push harder on our ‘position’.  Strong relationships are forged by strength-respecting-strength.  This merely requires that we always ‘trade’ so that there are indeed ‘no free lunches’.