The common sense and flexibility to make decisions under pressure in negotiation is also important. I’m reminded of the story of the old mountain man who came down from the hills pulling his donkey loaded with fur pelts. He tied the donkey up and went into the town saloon. A drunken cowboy, seeing the old mountain man, decided to have some fun. He pulled his gun and said to the old man, “I want to see you do a jig, as he fired several shots at the old man’s feet. The mountain man did not hesitate. Without a word, he started doing a jig. The drunken cowboy jumped with glee and fired more shots. The old man danced faster. Then, as the drunken cowboy reloaded, the old man grabbed his own gun from the floor where he had dropped it. He held it next to the cowboy’s head and said grimly, “Have you ever kissed a donkey’s behind?”
The young cowboy, sobering quickly, looked at the old man, at his gun, at the donkey and said decisively, “No sir, but I’ve always wanted to.”
A look at international diplomacy provides us with further insight into what makes a good negotiator. When the history of the twentieth century is written, only a few will be regarded as the skilled negotiators of this era. Henry Kissinger and Chou En-Lai of Communist China are sure to be mentioned. Chou shared with Kissinger the ability to survive under turbulent political conditions. In a society where a single mistake in judgment could mean death, Chou survived jail, purges, and the Long March. Later, Chou’s exceptional judgment helped him survive the Cultural Revolution in which thousands of Mao’s closest followers were liquidated or sent to Mongolia. Chou was indeed a man who could function effectively under difficult conditions.
“Chou was a tough and persuasive negotiator, with an immense capacity for absorbing detail, and immense patience in bargaining. With him, it was always a matter of give and take. He was frank and outspoken and he expected the same. Disagreement did not upset him. He expected a good deal of disagreement, but was disappointed if it could not be supported in intelligent terms. His eyes were bright, penetrating, and looked right at you. You felt that you had all his attention, that he would remember you-and what you said. It was a rare gift.”