While the popular HBO series Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy tale, the political intrigue is familiar. As with all political landscapes, negotiation skills play a vital role in successful deal-making and moving the work and the storyline forward. In the last two episodes, I was struck by the deal-making finesse of one character in particular – that of Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion manages to be a highly effective back channel negotiator. He is able to navigate delicate negotiations for his leader or bring people back to the negotiating table when the deals have hit an impasse. Understanding the value of this type of negotiator in a business setting is key for anyone working with difficult personalities, time-sensitive situations or within large organizations that might make decisions slower than processes move.
Before I get into the specifics of why Tyrion displays negotiating savvy, let’s cover the negotiating partners in play. Also please note, this post might include vague spoilers.
Tyrion is a nobleman and a part of the family Lannister, and his sister, Cersei, sits on the Iron Throne, ruling all of Westeros. Cersei and Tyrion have tried to kill each other multiple times over. Cersei’s authority is contested by a queen named Daenerys Targaryen (the character with the dragons) who is a ruler from the east that has liberated and united people from across their world. Tyrion works for Daenerys as her “Hand” or her top advisor. There is also a ruler involved named Jon Snow, who comes from the north. Beyond the geopolitical power struggles of these warring factions, there is a larger threat to everyone posed by the White Walkers – an army of resurrected dead creatures lead by the Night King, and they are determined to kill everyone living.
With all of these tensions and interests flying around, Tyrion Lannister manages to think strategically. He is an effective back channel because, despite all the history (and assassination attempts), he still maintains strong relationships with his siblings and other royal leaders. He is clear in communicating that he is motivated to act with integrity and create the greatest amount of good for the largest amount of living people. In the season finale, when asked why he was supporting Daenerys instead of his sister Cersei, he tells her it is because “she wants to make the world a better place.” His character probably believes this. This private conversation happens during a very tense negotiation between the three rulers, who are attempting to declare a truce so that everyone can devote their resources towards fighting the White Walkers. At this point, Cersei has walked away from the negotiations because Jon Snow will not stay neutral in his loyalty. Ultimately, Tyrion manages to bring Cersei back to the negotiation, and a temporary truce is agreed upon.
This isn’t the only stalled negotiation that Tyrion breathes life back into. In a previous episode, Tyrion manages to broker a deal between Daenerys and Jon Snow that might affirm that he really does want to act in the best interest of anyone living. When negotiations between Daenerys and Jon come to a halt, Tyrion finds a way to talk privately with both parties to find out more information. Jon wants the right to mine dragon glass from Daenerys’s lands – resources that could permanently kill the White Walker enemies. Daenerys wants Jon to pledge allegiance to her, but he is unable to do so at that time. Tyrion manages to convince the queen to allow the rival king access to a resource she doesn’t particularly value (dragon glass), convincing her that it’s a good investment in a new alliance. Tyrion helps the queen realize that the cost in allowing the king to mine the dragon glass is relatively zero, whereas the future value of an alliance could produce important and life-saving value.
So what’s the value of this fictional lesson to people working in the real world, and how does this apply to a business setting? Every executive has limited time, and in an ideal situation, relies on others to inform and expand her decision-making abilities. In situations where negotiations are delicate or have hit a wall, being an effective back channel can help leaders bridge a stalled negotiation and ultimately help everyone win.
How This Game Of Thrones Character Teaches One Winning Negotiation Skill – Forbes