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Negotiator in Wonderland: Learning from Alice’s Adventures

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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The next time you fall down a rabbit hole you will be prepared. Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass sequel provide a plethora of imaginative and practical advice.

The book’s spunky young heroine sets goals and thinks intensely about problems and solutions. Alice isn’t fazed by the quirky characters she encounters. She speaks her mind, takes action and remains steadfastedly optimistic. Take her insightful conversations to heart and mind. Put them into practice.


“Alice generally gave herself very good advice, though she seldom followed it.” In this instance, do the former – give yourself thoughtful advice – and have the confidence to follow it.

“What does it matter where my body happens to be?” said Alice. “My mind goes on working all the same. In fact, the more head downwards I am (falling down the rabbit hole), the more I keep inventing new things.” Honor your mental and physical states with control and courage. Celebrate inventing new things.

Cheshire Cat

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire Cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the Cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

Make your negotiation matter, starting with a plan to pinpoint where, how and why you want to go. Prepare for roadblocks, traffic jams and accidents. The where, how and why you go may require changes as you move along. Be ready. Be flexible.

Red Queen

The Red Queen admonished Alice, “Always speak the truth. Think before you speak. Write it down afterwards.” I add this caveat: Speak the truth as you know it and will present it during negotiations. React truthfully to your opponent’s questions, but do not give away information detrimental to you, beneficial to him. I echo the Red Queen’s advice to “Think before you speak. Write it down afterwards.”

“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” said the Red Queen. Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.”

Creativity (always a positive attribute for negotiators) requires believing in the impossible. Your right brain is pumping thoughts you (and perhaps no one else) has never come up with before. This certainly doesn’t mean they’re impossible. It does mean they’re worthy of further creativity to put them into action. The more you practice and pursue the good habit of creativity, the better your results.


The Duchess told Alice, “If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.”

Deals would be negotiated more quickly and effectively to achieve win-win fruition. Mind your own business and keep a business mindset in all aspects of your negotiations.

“Tut, tut, child!” said the Duchess to Alice. “When you’ve once said a thing, it’s too late to correct it and you must take the consequences. Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”

Organize your thoughts, take a deep breath, then open your mouth. You can find the moral of negotiating effectively by thinking about a negotiation that proved successful for you.

The King

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: Then stop.” The King went on, “I shall never, never forget!” “You will, though,” the Queen said, “if you don’t make a memorandum of it.”

When a negotiation goes smoothly it is likely because you state your goals, focus on details and communicate confidently to closure. Making timely notes about why a negotiation worked well is in your own best interests.

Humpty Dumpty & March Hare

“When I use a word,”Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare said. ?”I do,”Alice hastily replied; “at least I mean what I say; that’s the same thing, you know.” “Not the same thing a bit,” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say,” said the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like!'”

Say what you mean: Mean what you say. Paraphrase your opponents’ statement to be certain you understand his points. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.


“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?” “Yes, if you like,” said Alice.

Believe in yourself, follow the Wonderland advice and you will be prepared next time you fall down a rabbit hole.

JB Shelton Photo
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 Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of JB Shelton-Spurr is available on Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].

Copyright © 2013 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2013  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  June-July 2013