Negotiation 101 via Games of Thrones:
What Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the Queen, should have said to Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow

Negotiation 101 via Games of Thrones:

What Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the Queen, should have said to Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow before that disastrous meeting

Photo courtesy HBO/ Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow

If, like me, you watched intently as the last episode brought Jon Snow — that handsome, honest, easy-to-read-as-an-open-book, eager-to-do-good-by-his-people King of the North — face-to-face with Daenerys Targaryen — a shrewd, often cold but good-hearted Khaleesi, whose face betrays nothing and who firmly believes she is the rightful Queen of the 7 Kingdoms — you probably sensed the tension and wondered if this was all going to go very badly with either Jon or Daenerys making a wrong step, moving too fast, being too greedy; if things would fall apart; if Jon Snow’s advisers in the North were right in advising him not to head South — after all, his father was beheaded the last time the Northerners trusted the Southerners. There were so many reasons why this negotiation was destined to fail.

Knowing what we know of the strategy employed in Game Of Thrones, with reference to our own lives, we know that no negotiation is simple or straightforward. Think back to the last time you negotiated for something that didn’t end well.

There will always be a curve ball that threatens the negotiations process; there will be egos; there will be bargaining; there will be a winner; there will be a loser. And there will be resentment and anger; the process is often fractured, ending with one party feeling they ‘won’ the other; often party believing they ‘lost’ or got the raw end of the deal.

Wait, does it have to be this way? Do we have to have a proud winner and a sore loser? Is negotiating always a scary and sometimes ugly experience?

It doesn’t have to be. There is another way to negotiate; it takes a bit of wisdom and practice, but it’s possible — and what’s more has proven fantastic results.

This is where a negotiations coach or, in this case, Tyrion Lannister, advisor and Hand of the Queen, comes in. Tyrion knows something about human nature and negotiations. If he had executed his role, preparing both parties for the negotiation process, things would have gone along a lot smoother, Jon Snow would have achieved his goal, and Daenerys would have achieved hers.

Instead, what we saw was unprepared negotiators fall prey to the easiest and most avoidable negotiation traps. Since 16.1 million viewers watch the show, it seems fair to use this scene to illustrate the negotiation errors you could avoid in your negotiations.

Over the past few years, using lessons learned from the Harvard Negotiation Project, I’ve been teaching executives, lawyers, future company leaders, anyone interested in negotiation. It’s not only those whose official function includes negotiations that come to me; all of us could do with a Tyrion Lannister looking over our shoulders. Many of our social interactions involve negotiations: where to go for dinner, what movie to watch, should the air conditioner be set on high or low? Some end well; many end badly.

I’ve been teaching this class and working with executives — with one objective: helping clients get to a Win-Win solution. Nothing beats going home feeling the negotiation was fair!

Coming back to Game Of Thrones; Daenerys led the negotiations since they were on her home turf. She invited Jon Snow at the insistence of Tyrion Lannister.

Photo courtesy HBO/Tyrion Lannister

Here is what Tyrion Lannister should have said to prepare both parties for a very difficult negotiation; his failure to do so in preparation for the negotiation could( and may still) have started a war.

1ST Mistake: Jon Snow not doing what Daenerys wants is the problem.

What the negotiations advisor should have said: “Separate the people from the problem. Jon Snow is NOT the problem”

Jon Snow is not Daenerys Targaryen’s problem, and Daenerys Targaryen is not his.

This, even though Daenerys Targaryen’s family killed Jon Snow’s, and Jon Snow refuses to acknowledge her as Queen, Jon Snow is NOT the problem.

While negotiating, we are so caught up in the issue, so involved in what we want and often feel anxious that we won’t get what have decided we deserve, that we look at the negotiating party and the problem in the same light.

When misunderstandings and conflict arise in negotiation, we need to deal with the‘people problem’ directly. Empathy, striving to imagine the situation from the counterpart’s viewpoint gives us an invaluable insight into what they are asking for and why it’s important to them.

Separating the people from the problem will help you see the problem clearly and avoid any muddle of emotions that arises from the problem.

Sometimes personality conflicts lock a negotiation and blaming the person doesn’t solve anything. Stepping aside from your feelings or notions of what the other negotiator signifies can help you see your real problem and the path to the solution.


What the negotiations advisor should have said: “Focus on interests, not positions. Don’t force him to acknowledge your role as Queen.. just yet”

Taking a position often implies tying yourself into a fixed role, which makes it very difficult for you to move positions without appearing to lose face or confuse the negotiations.

Taking you back to Game Of Thrones, as you watch the two future rulers make their demands, you witness the start of the end of a constructive negotiation process: you see the defensiveness on both sides mounting, the silent anger, the sharp tone of voice, the egos flashing. Here is a very rough excerpt of their conversation:

Daenerys Targaryen: “I’m the rightful queen; bend the knee.”

Jon Snow: “No way! I didn’t come here for that.”

Daenerys Targaryen: “Our mutual family history says you must do this.”

Jon Snow: “I don’t care about family history; I have bigger issues to deal with.”

Even if you didn’t watch the episode, you’d agree that was a hostile conversation and a big negotiation mistake. Hard to come back to being friends after you’ve been told to bend your knee and recognize the other party as superior, huh?

Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow have interests that have driven them to meet face-to-face. By failing to address these interests and sticking to positions, they indulge in


Look at it this way: In positional negotiations, real estate seller A and potential buyer meet B for the first time over a property. The seller wants to get rid of the property but is locked into her role of being the seller and asking for the best price. She won’t settle for a price lower than the one she is prepared to take. Lowering the price, to her, appears as if she lost out.

Buyer B is going for the lowest price she can possibly pay to acquire the property. She is definitely not prepared to pay full price to the seller, as she has a sense there are properties available for the same price and that the seller needs to sell. If B pays full price when she believes she could have it for less, she feels like she lost the negotiation.

If, instead, the conversation had begun with each party expressing their interests, verbalizing why the property is important to each one will give them the ability to negotiate with the other party’s interests in mind.

Seller A might express a need for liquidity; Buyer B might express a need to purchase a property suitable for a growing family. Buyer B might be willing to pay a large portion of cash upfront in exchange for a free parking space for an additional car.

Result: WIN-WIN!

After the first meeting between Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, where Snow is told he is ‘not yet’ a prisoner, you walked away, thinking this negotiation has ended disastrously — then you were right, and only a skilled negotiator could turn that situation around.

Tyrion Wakes Up to his Role as Negotiations Advisor, just in time…

Thankfully and fortunately for the Hand of the Queen, Tyrion Lannister woke up in time to remedy what should have been done in the prep stages of the negotiations if a WIN-WIN solution was what Tyrion had in mind all along. As he meets personally and alone with Snow, Tyrion asks Jon Snow, repeatedly, if there is something/anything Tyrion can do to help.

What Tyrion Lannister is trying to say, in layman’s words, is:

Let’s move away from positional bargaining and focus on your interests.

What are your interests?

What can we do for you?

You want to mine Dragonglass from here for your weapons? Let me speak to the Queen.

Wrapping up: We are all negotiators, whether in our official capacity, in our workspace or personal relationships — you can’t escape negotiating (unless it all goes south, and you have your head chopped off like Ned Starck). Hoping for a better outcome?

Here are some key steps to prepare for the negotiations process:

1) Separate the person from the problem.

Jon Snow was not Daenerys’ problem, and she was not Jon Snow’s problem, but they made the mistake of letting their problem overcome their personal relationship.

2) Avoid positional bargaining; focus on interests.

The Khaleesi should have been the one to say: “If you want Dragonglass, and we have it, we’ll allow you to mine it if you help us out with our interests, which are…”

WIN-WIN for everyone!

It is never too late to start learning the best way to negotiate. You never know; it might save your skin someday.

Stay tuned for more…

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Mridula Palat — Becker is Managing Partner and Founder of ELTEM, Paris, a consulting firm specializing in strategy for business development, sales and negotiations. Mridula works with Fortune 500 companies in New York and Paris working with global leaders in business and entrepreneurs. She has a Masters degree in Global Business Strategy from Columbia University, New York and is trained in negotiation strategies used in the Harvard Negotiation Project. She is 100% committed to getting her clients to Win-Win solutions.

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