[Strategy] How to be the Nicky Barnes of Negotiation

The savvy entrepreneur in an ever changing business environment, should take a page from the book of entrepreneurs in other spaces. Particularly, that least savvy of all spaces, drug dealing.

Now, I am not advocating for drug-dealing, illicit drug use, or engaging in illegal activity.

Far from it.

What I am advocating for is looking at the techniques, practices, tips and trick that individuals who engage in the selling and distribution of illegal drugs use to negotiate in an ever changing, unpredictable market, filled with unpredictable, ever changing, personalities and people.

The business environment for illegal drugs is highly fluid, the market for drugs is inelastic, and the demand curve for illegal drugs is only trending upward (and has been for the last thirty or so years). From these three factors alone, we can also conclude that there is a lot of competition in the market for illicit drugs, thus there are competitors in the market that might be tempted to negotiate with each other with violence rather than with words.

Which is where the power of negotiation as a method of persuasion comes in.

In a situation where drugs are being dealt, contrary to popular opinion, the first move is not to get a weapon and being shooting—that’s actually the last move. The first move is to talk.

Particularly as a person moves up higher and higher in the ranks of the entrepreneurial, drug-dealing world, talk matters more than violence (of any kind), which is why “foot soldiers” in gangs engaged in drug dealing tend to have arrest records far longer and more extensive than the arrest records of the “big fish.”

Because, much like the CEO of a modern corporation (or a start-up founder) the higher you go in an organization, the less impetus there is for immediate resolution, and the more impetus there is for the tools and techniques of persuasion.

From Nicky Barnes to Frank Lucas and even to Pablo Escobar, negotiation was used first, and then when that didn’t work, methods of persuasion became more direct—and more violent.

But what does all of this have to do with the modern entrepreneur, trying to move units of their latest, greatest mobile phone app? There are a few tips to remember:

Entrepreneurs like a good argument: With the market, with their partners, with their competition, and even with their employees. However, remember that argumentation breaks down into three areas: arguments designed to persuade, arguments, design to advocate, and arguments designed to provide proof of a point. An argument will almost always lead to some issues that negotiation will have to work through.

Entrepreneurs need to remember that negotiation is about trust, reciprocation, commitment, and consistency. Even in the world of drug dealing, (remember, inelastic, highly competitive markets) there has to be a system of trust based in reciprocation (“I do for you, you do for me”) commitment, and consistency, or else every person will be for themselves. Coalitions, agreements, and mutual understandings come about through effective negotiation.

Entrepreneurs are sometimes less interested in persuasion than they are in being “right” or “winning” the argument or the negotiation. Persuasion is about watching language, active listening, rephrasing and paraphrasing, and having an active, engaged memory. In order to engage effectively and persuasively, remember that no negotiation scenario (whether around drugs or mobile phone apps or even a peace building process) is “pure.” There are always emotions, triggers, and other elements that each party brings to the negotiation table that have to be addressed at the negotiation table. When those issues and concerns are ignored, dismissed, or otherwise not acknowledged, resentment and bitterness begin to grow in the heart of the aggrieved party.

Negotiation is a method of persuasion that every entrepreneur should value, no matter what empire (or “dent” in the universe) they are seeking to make.

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