It’s not every day a Harvard business professor and one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation decides to write a fiction thriller. 

So once I learned Deepak Malhotra was releasing just such a book I was eager to see the final result. Would it be insightful? Would it be entertaining? Was it possible to combine the two at the highest level? All of these questions and more raced through my mind, but I knew one thing for sure: I was reading it.

As a huge fan of Deepak’s non-fiction work on negotiation, I am happy to report the book fully exceeded my expectations in all categories. Not only was The Peacemaker’s Code incredibly insightful from the standpoint of negotiation, diplomacy, history, and conflict resolution, it was a gripping page-turner up there with the the best pop-fiction escapism I’ve read. 

With that, I would like to share three key lessons from the book that can be applied to for better results when negotiating professionally and in everyday life.

(Note – While there are minor spoilers, I purposely omit specific plot details in the hopes you’ll go out and purchase the book.)

Challenge your assumptions

The main character and hero of the story is Professor Kilmer, a famous author who has reached the pinnacle of his field as a historian of war and conflict. He is roped into the center of the action as an advisor to the President of the United States after learning alien space craft are swiftly approaching planet earth in what appears to be a menacing and threatening manner.

As we listen to Professor Kilmer in both one-on-one conversations and group settings, we come to find his great gift is challenging the assumptions being made, and highlighting ones he believes are not yet reasonable to make.

For example, in Kilmer’s first meeting with President Marianne J. Whitman, he poses a series of questions dealing with the precise trajectory of the aliens on their path towards earth. When the response is along the lines of “we don’t know” and “if we did, would it matter?” Kilmer’s response is “maybe…” What is most important in the mind of Kilmer at this stage in the game is to keep track of their basic assumptions revolving around if and how the aliens think so they can tested before any dangerous commitments are made.

In this and numerous other scenes throughout the story, I could not help but hear Professor Kilmer channel the seminal political scientist Robert Jervis, author of “Perception and Misperception in International Politics”, which Malhotra brings to life masterfully in a movie-like manner begging to be directed by Steven Spielberg.

For example, here is a passage from Jervis’s book on Perception that could have been an explained by Professor Kilmer himself, pacing around the White House Oval Office, cup of coffee in hand:

“…well-known arguments for the importance of empathizing with one’s adversary in order to predict how they will react are insufficient. One must try to empathize with a variety of possible outlooks, any one of which could be a true representation of the adversary. It is not enough to calculate how the other side will respond to your action if your image of them is correct. You must also try to estimate how the other will respond if they have intentions and perceptions that are different from those you think they probably have.”

Interests and constraints

Throughout the ordeal, Professor Kimler urges himself and others to better understand the true interests of the aliens in coming to earth, as well as potential constraints upon their ability to both launch an attack or negotiate.

For example, just before a pivotal high-stakes interaction, Kilmer takes the time to think through how he will gather this crucial information, with the main goal of identifying the key to what is truly driving the aliens’ behavior and demands. And while he ponders numerous questions that if answered will illuminate the interests and constraints among the aliens, the primary question he starts with in his search for this answer is simply, “why now?”

As a student of Deepak Malhotra’s books this was a very familiar lesson, for he often recommends identifying these two crucial distinctions when analyzing every negotiation. (And, in the event you would like to hear a good summary of how we can all have a negotiation mindset similar to Professor Kilmer, check out this short Youtube video from Malhotra here.)

Every problem wants to be solved

Finally, the most persistent and empowering mantra of our hero Professor Kilmer is every problem wants to be solved.

It is what he continues reminds himself at the most pivotal, dangerous, and seemingly hopeless moments throughout the ordeal, to the fortune of all of humanity.

I believe this is a great paradigm for all of the most difficult challenges we face personally and professionally, for its special power lies in its prudence and optimism.

Further, Kilmer’s mantra also reminds of what author Stephen R. Covey coined the “3rd Alternative”, in that many of our most difficult problems only seem to present only one, two, or perhaps zero choices, but if we search hard and summon the strength to keep fighting to understand we just might discover a light at the end of the tunnel.

Deepak Malhotra’s The Peacemaker’s Code serves as an incredibly entertaining reminder that as hopeless and tiring as problems may seem in our individual lives or the world at large, there can be a way out. And even if it’s not presenting itself just yet, to keep the faith, especially if we have time.

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