Leadership

3 negotiation mistakes that might cost Daenerys Targaryen on 'Game of Thrones'

Actors Peter Dinklage, Nathalie Emmanuel, Emilia Clarke in hit HBO show "Game of Thrones"
Courtesy of HBO
Actors Peter Dinklage, Nathalie Emmanuel, Emilia Clarke in hit HBO show "Game of Thrones"

On Sunday's episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled, "The Queen's Justice," Daenerys Targaryen tries to convince Jon Snow to join her in quest to take over the seven kingdoms by first pledging his loyalty. It doesn't go well.

She is arguably the rightful queen of Westeros and he is acting king in the North. Their antecedents were once allies. They have the same principal enemy. They're even, secretly, family. Still, she cannot manage to seize her advantages. Instead, the Mother of Dragons, so good at both freeing slaves and escaping captivity, makes some basic negotiating mistakes that set her back.

And since, by the end of the episode, viewers learn that she needs Jon and his armies more than ever as part of her real selectorate, her failure to negotiate successfully could cost her the Seven Kingdoms.

Here are the three negotiating mistakes the khaleesi makes, which could have dire consequences for more than her career.

1. She can't connect 

Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi says that one of the key things to do in any negotiation is to set the right tone: "Make sure the tenor is nice and relaxed. The last thing you want is a defensiveness." That's what allows you to connect, he says.

And since Jon is visiting Daenerys on her home turf, setting the tone is her responsibility.

She could do more to welcome him. She could offer him wine and bread and salt, so that he would understand that he is officially her guest and won't be harmed. (As we've seen, the Westeros rules of hospitality are not infallible, but still.) She could say, "We don't have to talk politics right away," and suggest he take a hot bath. Has he even had one since his resurrection? A few bubbles can do wonders for the spirit.

Instead, she seems chilly from the outset, and he is chilly in return, and their largely formal interaction goes nowhere. As Vox points out, from the first moments of their meeting, Jon and Daenerys are not on the same page.

She wanted him to bend the knee. He wanted her to get her head out of the clouds. She wanted him to respect his lineage. He wanted her dragon firepower because the Night King is just ready to kill everyone. She wanted to talk about allies. He wanted to talk about how no one will have allies when everyone's an ice zombie.

The family resemblance is clear to anyone looking for it: These are principled and strong leaders with a clear agenda. They both believe firmly in the rightness of their cause. And that makes them, on occasion, charmless. You sense, as a viewer, that neither feels like they should have to resort to wooing to get their way.

But sometimes, if you don't woo, you don't win.

"Both are incredibly stubborn, fail to compromise and, for the moment, almost torch any shot an alliance," concludes Vox.

2. She forgets "show, don't tell"

As characters in this universe so often say, "Words are wind." Claims don't matter much, and neither does describing the various royal branches of your family tree. That's why Sethi recommends the briefcase technique, a strategy through which you don't just say you deserve something you want, you prove it.

Bringing a helpful prop, or even a gift, demonstrates your seriousness in a way that simply talking does not. That's partly why Euron Greyjoy of the Iron Islands has so much more success with Cersei in this episode than he did earlier in the season: Now he presents her with valuable captives, not merely with promises.

3. She has only one goal

Although each of them is clear about what they want to get out of the negotiation, they box themselves in by asking for only one thing.

Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra calls this the most common deal-making mistake. People come to the table with one desire and, when denied, they don't have something else to ask for. The end up engaging in "mindless haggling."

To be successful, Malhotra advises, "negotiate multiple interests simultaneously." That's wise because, "with multiple issues on the table, both sides are more likely to get at least a few 'wins.'"

Thankfully, Tyrion Lannister, the queen's hand, later reminds Jon that having a secondary consideration is key. The main thing Jon is asking for, Tyrion tells him, isn't reasonable. What does he want that is reasonable? What could he ask for that Daenerys could give?

Jon thinks of something perfect: dragon glass, or obsidian, which is a resource Daenerys' Dragonstone lands are rich in but not using. Letting his people mine it will help him tremendously without costing Daenerys anything, so the queen is happy to oblige.

And that's how these two monarchs finally get to Yes.

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