What would the Mother of Dragons Do? (WWMDD)
While watching episode four of season two of fantasy TV drama Game of Thrones, I saw a familiar negotiation scene unfold.
In a world ruled by medieval codes of honor and duty, where valiant knights in armor coexist with blood magic, zombies and fire-breathing dragons, a negotiation all too familiar with us mere mortals played out on the TV screen.
Which made me wonder:
What would the Mother of Dragons do (WWMDD?)
From the scene in question, we learn that the Mother of Dragons, otherwise known as Daenerys Targaryen, would do three things:
1. She would use contentious tactics.
2. She would not give away her power.
3. She would paint a vivid picture of her future potential in terms her bargaining partner can understand.
In case you were wondering “the Mother of what?!” Daenerys is a courageous hero, an heiress in exile whose claim to the throne is buttressed by her lineage and her three fire-breathing dragons.
At this point in the story, the dragons are babies breathing tiny puffs of smoke (adorable!) but their future potential as flying weapons of mass destruction is as undeniable as it is formidable. Because the dragons obey only Daenerys, their future potential is also hers.
And in this particular scene, she is in a bit of a pickle.
Daenerys, her tribe and her baby dragons are in desperate need of food, water and shelter after a long march in the desert. They arrive at the gates of Qarth, a thriving city, and meet the gatekeepers who call themselves the Thirteen.
It’s do-or-die time, but first she must negotiate for entry with the Thirteen noble men who rule and govern over Qarth.
She tries to build rapport by being gracious and uses contentious tactics, starting with ingratiation. When Daenerys praises the legendary beauty of Qarth, she is cut off only to have her pronunciation corrected. It's Karth, she's haughtily told.
Her plea for generosity, food and water is met with contempt and a blunt counter-ask.
“Show us your dragons,” they demand.
Which, roughly translated into the banal speak of our everyday negotiations, could be:
“Expose yourself and no promises we won’t take advantage of you.”
“Hand over your ace in the hole.”
Or the all too common:
“Give us free work.”
If you’ve ever found yourself in need of persuading someone with power (let’s say a family member, a loan officer, an employer or potential investor) to help you in a time of need, and if those in power were unsympathetic, then this negotiation situation may be familiar to you too, regardless of your affinity for the works of George R. R. Martin. When you negotiate with uncooperative partners, it's what academics call competitive negotiation.
So, again, this begs the question: What Would the Mother of Dragons Do?
She holds her ground. She’s young but not naïve. She insists that her people be fed and sheltered before she reveals her dragons.
She tries shaming, yet another contentious tactic, saying that guests are treated with respect where she comes from. When this is met with “well then go back to where you came from,” she appeals to their altruism, saying that her people will die if refused entry. Thirteen shrug her off and turn their backs.
In this pivotal moment, she decides to give up the victim card. She chooses herself.
She steps forward and calls to the Thirteen, who turn around, and she says:
When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who have wronged me. We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground. Turn us away and we will burn you first.
In a split second, she goes from begging for mercy to threatening total destruction. In doing so, she paints her future potential as a formidable conqueror that will rule with “fire and blood,” while employing tit-for-tat tactic.
Because the Thirteen didn't care whether Daenerys and her people died, virtually leaving them to die outside their gates, she retaliates proportionately. Turn us away and we will burn you first.
This last contentious tactic finally breaks the impasse. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, so suffice it to say that while the welfare of Daenerys and her people failed to move them, her verve and her future potential did.
Now, I’m not in any way proposing that you use threats of destruction and arson to get your way.
The point I’m illustrating is that in this difficult negotiation, the Mother of Dragons refused to give away her power, used contentious tactics to her advantage and painted her future potential in clear terms her bargaining partners can understand.
She negotiated for her survival and she prevailed.
Call me a geek, but I think we have a thing or two or three about negotiating for ourselves that we can learn from the Mother of Dragons. So next time you're in a negotiation pickle, why not ask WWMDD?