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Negotiator Whisperer: A Cattle Rancher’s Secrets

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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A Rancher’s Caveat

Any and all resemblances between calves, cows, heifers, bulls (the herd) and human negotiators (humans) is fully intentional and involves no disrespect toward either group.

Positively Bullish Negotiating

The two thousand pound bull in our backyard pasture knows me and I know him, by appearance, attitude, movement, voice and our historical relationship. Ninety-one-ten was just a year old when, among all the bulls on the supplier’s ranch, he quickly established eye-contact with me. I’ve learned during my ranching life, that the more you know about a bull or a bullish negotiating opponent, the more you can impress him by communicating effectively and the better the negotiation’s outcome.

Please the Guy with the Power

Our single bull is responsible for performing his manly best with 28 cows and ten heifers (the latter aren’t officially cows until they give birth). The future of our herd depends on his ability to negotiate with each female in heat to convince her that he’s her guy. His macho appearance and demeanor, self-confident attitude and worldly-wise experience (this isn’t his first year on duty) do the trick.

The more you know about the real decision-maker in a negotiation, the stronger your plan will be. Are you dealing with the executives who, in spite of their acting macho, self-confident and experienced, nonetheless must appeal to a higher authority for final deal approval? Do your criteria for a successful negotiation reflect the needs and wants held by your opponent’s powerful person? Do you know and use your strengths and abilities to the fullest effect? What do you offer that no one else does?

The Grass is Always Greener

We negotiators share ‘the grass is always greener’ mindsets with the bovine set. The herd does so literally, hearing our truck approaching the gate between pastures; they’re enthusiastic and positioned to run into the next grassy expanse. We humans all too often want the newest model, the next great version, the never-seen-before invention. In both cases, they and we might very well be better off in familiar territory, concentrating on enjoying nutritious greenery or accomplishing our work with technology we already know how to use.

Body Language

Body language for both two and four legged creatures refers to non-verbal messages we communicate in movements, gestures, vocal tones and facial expressions. Working as a cow whisperer, I’ve learned to respect our cows’ 300-degree panoramic vision and ability to hear different sounds in each ear. When I come too close, loudly or quickly, the cows consider their ‘flight zone’ invaded and quickly communicate to me in body language by running away across the pasture.

Human body language is our wordless way to gain control of a negotiation. From the moment you enter the meeting room and scan your opponents’ faces, maintain a confident negotiator’s posture and poise. Listen and watch interactions of your team and your opponents’ team. A sturdy handshake, sitting up straight but comfortably in your chair, forming a steeple with your fingertips before you speak, add to your authority. Like our bull, present a large presence, maintain eye contact, avoid smiling inappropriately, and move and gesture slowly and deliberately.

Focus Like a Calf

Human negotiators need detailed plans about goals, resources and actions. We are highly distractible and sensitive to unintended insults and misspoken remarks. Mistaken pride in our productiveness as multitaskers wastes time and energy.

Within 30 minutes of their births, I’ve witnessed calves stand up, curiously view their new environs, walk over to their moms, and know how to nurse for sustenance. Newborns and the entire herd are great examples of focusing on what they need to achieve. They cooperate with family and friends and learn about life by imitating older cows’ behavior. Calves seek out the best sources of nutrition and protect themselves from the hot sun by gathering under creekside shaded trees. They pay attention to humans who come to make certain that they’re healthy and, yes, contented.

Who can you, my human friend, rely on for wisdom? Seek experienced negotiators willing to share their expertise. What are you doing that hurts rather than helps achieve your goals? Are you being self-protective of your health, energy, resources and time?


Cow and negotiator whisperers have much in common. We’re always cognizant of instincts, behavior and environment, whether in the pasture or the boardroom.

JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton) is a journalist based in Raleigh and Oxford, NC. She writes about children growing up and grownups reinventing themselves. JB teaches ‘Reinvent Yourself in Writing’ at Duke University in Durham, NC. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].

Copyright © 2012 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (September, 2012)