Sales Negotiations

What Did Game of Thrones Teach Us About Sales Negotiations?

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The final episode of HBO’s epic fantasy show Game of Thrones (GoT) ended in May 2019. With discussions about that finale now (mostly) starting to calm down, fans are still finding lots of intrigue and lessons from the TV series. In GoT, negotiation skills and deal-making play pivotal roles in shaping storylines.

In almost every episode, there are excellent examples of characters using their negotiation skills to train their attention in getting what they want. From shaping the political landscape to rallying enemies to fight on the same side, there are lots to learn from negotiations in GoT. Here are some of our favorite GoT characters using their negotiation finesse to teach us a thing or two on skills we can use in sales negotiations.

Empathy Wins Hearts and Deals

In season six, when the Greyjoy siblings, Theon and Yara, go to seek an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen (Dany), Yara demonstrates how using empathy can gain you an ally.

With a skillful play on words, Yara evokes empathy in Dany by recounting her own frustrations, which are similar to those faced by Dany, revolving around fighting patriarchal traditions.

For example, Yara points out how both women’s fathers were terrible kings who were murdered by usurpers. Both Yara and Dany had brothers who were bumbling, incompetent idiots yet were the preferred heirs to the thrones.

In addition, the Iron Islands had never had a queen rule them before, and neither had Westeros. The two have to fight the perception that women are not fit to rule. In their world and in their time, women can only progress through marriage. Yara galvanizes Dany by reminding her that the two female warriors can unite to change that perception.

In online sales training, facilitators often describe empathy as the process of intuitively relating to another person’s experiences, feelings, and emotional state. Empathy and emotional intelligence allow humans to forge complex connections on both interpersonal and societal levels. In GoT, few understood the use of empathy as well as Yara Greyjoy.

Show, Don’t Tell

In season 7, at the Dragonpit Summit, Dany, alongside Jon Snow, demonstrates the importance of action over words in gaining Cersei’s allegiance in uniting against the wights. First, Dany removes all doubt about the existence and power of her dragons through her dramatic arrival. Then, to Cersei’s utter astonishment, Dany and Jon (along with their allies) prove that the wights not only exist, but are almost impossible to kill.

It’s only when Sandor Clegane (The Hound) releases a captured wight that reality sinks in. For Cersei, unconvinced by the words of the opposition, the threat of a relentless enemy with supernatural powers could only be illustrated by action.

In sales, sometimes you need more than words to persuade buyers to see things your way. Many sales negotiations are about focusing divergent interests on a common cause, so you need strong persuasion skills. Only by seeing the wight does Cersei pledge to fight alongside Dany in the Great War, ultimately the only war that matters.

Respect the Gatekeeper

To a casual onlooker, Tyrion Lannister is a weak man. He’s a habitual drunkard of short stature with no training in swordsmanship. Yet, as many foes come to learn, the very intelligent Tyrion holds lots of sway with those in power.

Tyrion was the Hand for both King Joffrey and Queen Dany. He was a key strategist for Dany, and also her chief negotiator. For those seeking alliances and favors from the rulers, they had to first pass through Tyrion.

When trying to make a sale, it’s not always easy to go straight to the decision maker. To reach the person with the authority to sign off on a deal, you often have to pass through gatekeepers. While the gatekeeper sometimes holds no decision-making power of their own, gatekeepers often have the ear of those in authority.

Information is Leverage

In GoT, Petyr Baelish is an expert information merchant. He is a skilled and ruthless manipulator who often gets his way through cunning.

Lord Baelish uses his access to information to rise from a minor family to a senior position of influence. How he leverages information directly impacts major events in King’s Landing. By trading in secrets and manipulation of facts, Baelish became Master of Coin.

When King Joffrey ascended to power, Baelish protects the Lannisters from the damaging information that the King is a child of incest. Baelish later uses leverage to negotiate the alliance between the Lannisters and House Tyrell to defeat Stannis Baratheon. His part in brokering the alliance earns him the Lordship of Harrenhal.

In sales negotiations, having the right information is often an advantage. However, training yourself to know when and how to use that information holds the real power.

In Closing

Yara, Dany, Tyrion, and Lord Baelish have one thing in common: They all use almost any means necessary to get their way in negotiations. It’s important to note that in today’s sales and political environment – and in the real world – there are ethical limits to using strong-arm tactics and deceit. That said, there’s a lot to learn from GoT’s interactions.

The key characters often have to negotiate with traders, warriors, and enemies to survive and thrive. Some of the characters are better at getting what they want than others. Study their methods, and you too could become an expert negotiator.

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