NLPease Talks:

The social panorama in negotiation and mediation

Lucas Derks

(Lucas talking about mediation, photos: click here)



ON 3RD JUNE 1999 Martti Ahtisaari, the president of Finland, went to Belgrade to seek agreement with the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevich about a UN peace-keeping force in Kosovo. A series of Russian, American, British and French diplomats had already tried this in vain. However, to everyone's surprise, Ahtisaari made it work. The core quOestion for an NLPer is, of course, how did he succeed where so many others had failed? Is he an example of an excellent negotiator?




There is an anecdote that sheds some light on how Ahtisaari might have completed his extremely difficult mission. The story goes that after a long day of hard talks, the stubborn Milosevich invited Ahtisa­ari for a banquet. But Ahtisaari immediately dismissed the offer, saying: "You have no time for a dinner party. You must do homework. You have to sign this treaty tonight." And Ahtisaari set off for his hotel. The next day, the Kosovo war had ended - at least on paper.

After presenting a training on trauma treatment in Bosnia­Herzegovina in 1998, Richard Bolstad and Margot Hamblett wrote a moving article about how NLP could contribute to peace at large (Bolstad 1998). Their inspiring reflections gave rise to the idea that NLP can help in three ways:


1 by promoting peaceful attitudes in people through education and  the media;

2 by treating people that suffer from war trauma, thus preventing resentment and revenge from developing, and

3 as an aid to politicians and diplomats whose job it is to negotiate  peace deals.


This article makes my contribution to the third of these.


Rumours of peace

According to 'well informed circles' it is quite certain that NLP has found its way to the highest levels of politics. Yet people like Tony Robbins, who seems to have been publicly named as a president's (wife's) advis­er, a_e rare among those who do this work. The reason for this is per­haps that, in Europe at any rate, there's hardly a politician who would care to admit having been coached by anybody lower than the Pope himself. What's more, most of the NLPers who do this coaching are unlikely to reveal to their prestigious clients the three-lettered abbre­viation for the approach they use, with its questionable reputation. So when it does occur, as it often does (believe me), we will only hear rumors of such coaching.

Bandler and Grinder's (1982) negotiation pattern, which centers around the search for common goals and values between the parties involved, was a major breakthrough in negotiation technology. It pro­vides us with a reliable step-by-step process to arrive at win-win solu­tions. When they chunk up to more abstract and general criteria, most parties will reach a point where they recognize that there are at least significant similarities in what they are struggling for. Lasting peace, respected sovereignty, prosperity and safety are among the criteria shared by Israel and the Palestinians, and may be considered as the basis for their peace process. On such abstract and general founda­tions, more specific agreements can be arranged. And in the case of the Middle East, we may hear the parties involved mention these shared criteria over and over again. That is the sound of peace to come. For instance, Arafat's speech in Paris on 8th November 1999.

Bandler and Grinder themselves have been quarrelling over the rights to NLP for several years now, thereby harming its image. Numerous other pairs of NLP-ers have demonstrated their inability to use NLP to heal their splits. All this makes the critics yell, 'If even the founders can't cope with their issues, what's the value of NLP?'

I wonder what would happen if Bandler and Grinder were to apply their own negotiation pattern on themselves; they might find some common ground. After chunking up from their personal stakes, they might for instance agree that global appreciation and recognition of their creative contributions to the field of psychology is far more important (useful, valuable and profitable) than that one of them should be left in sole possession of the remains of NLP.

It would be still more powerful if in mutual hypnosis they were to reencounter the spirits of Satir, Perls and Erickson and hear the latter tell them in a trembling and echoing voice: 'The noise of two coyotes fighting over a carcass will only invite vultures to snatch away the best pieces.' And after that all the NLPers of the world would want to meet at Bandler and Grinder's next joint seminar!

This article invites you to explore the usefulness of a new NLP tool for peace talk: the negotiation panorama. In the process it will shift your attention from 'what is negotiated about' to 'who are negotiating'. This tool arises from my 'Social Panorama' project (Derks 1995, 1996), in which social psychological topics are brought into the scope of NLP by means of modelling the social experience at large.

In mainstream psychology the 'social cognition approach' is the cur­rent state-of-the-art (Martin, 1990; Fiske, 1991; Kunda, 1999). As soon as we explore the same subject matter from the point of view of NLP, the doors open all at once to the unconscious domain of the syntax of social life. Social concepts turn from 'difficult to grasp' into 'describ­able at different levels of abstraction in the sensory system and its sub­modalities'.

The social panorama model (Derks, 1995) builds on Bandler's (1985) and Andreas and Andreas's (1989) work, as most of the modelling is done on the level of submodalities. Inspiration came also from Lewin's (1952) notion of social fields, Dilts's psycho-geography and Hellinger's (1995) family constellation.

On the following pages, we will explore the structure of the social imagery that necessarily makes up any negotiation situation when the stakes are high.


Peace talking personifications

When two representatives of political parties, armies, nations or any kind of organizations that are in conflict, are about to me,et, their men­tal models of this meeting must contain a number of personifications. By personifications I mean mental constructions that represent people (Derks, 1997). Personifications are 'parts' in the classic NLP meaning of the word, parts in a person's social panorama and they are imagined as being capable of social interaction. The generally accepted division between social and non-social experience comes from the social expe­rience being entirely structured around personifications of all sorts, while the non-social experience contains the rest of the represented universe (Derks 1998).

Personifications are cognitive structures that consist of a number of basic attributions of persons in general: (1) feelings and emotions; (2) voices that can express beliefs and motives; (3) a form of self aware­ness, and (4) a personal perspective on the world. Personifications are considered to have a similar structure to the self. Within the frame of developmental psychology, we may assume that a child first learns that points (1)-(4) are part of its own self experience, then it may discover that they are also present in others' experiences (Schaffer,1996). The belief that others are in this respect similar to oneself - 'We are the same' - forms the basis of the ability to construct personifications and to master basic social skills.


When Ahtisaari and Milosevich knew they were going to meet, they necessarily held, however vaguely and unconsciously, some kind of mental schemes of this situation (Augoustinos, 1990). In these ideas huge personifications could have a place; probably personifications that represented all those categories of people that were involved in this war. Some people of course, were represented as unique individu­als (Jamie Shea); others as small groups (NATO generals) and again oth­ers as sheer abstract masses (Kosovo-Albanians). However unique or generalized, we regard all distinct mental units in the social panorama model as single personifications. So there can be personifications that represent individuals and personifications that represent groups, tribes, market segments, genders, races, nations or mankind at large; it just depends on the (cognitive and linguistic) social distinctions that a person makes. A person who expresses the sentence: 'The Serbs con­sider keeping Kosovo an obligation to their ancestors,' demonstrates a personification of 'Serbs' and a personification of 'Serbian ancestors' in his social panorama.

The term 'social panorama' is reserved for a person's entire collec­tion of social images that surround the self (Derks 1995). Social experi­ence is made up of the self in the center and all other personifications around it. How a person experiences him- or herself in the social world can be analyzed by finding the locations of all personifications that make up his or her social panorama.

Thus Ahtisaari and Milosevich each had their own social panorama, in which a number of personifications stood out, shaping their antici­pation of hese upcoming talks.





How to use the negotiation panorama

The negotiation panorama is designed as a tool for NLP-ers to coach representatives to cope with confrontation. It enables us to monitor and change the negotiator's experience before, during, and after the talks. And besides politics, the same principles can be applied to sales, scientific discussions, and courtroom debates as well. For mediation goals, there exist a variation of the negotiation panorama, called the mediation panorama. The latter focesses on the social experience of the mediator: How to build an inner image of the three parties involveld that implyes a balanced relation for creative problemsolving.

Here are the steps that the negotiation panorama suggests you follow.


1 Check the self image

The first thing a negotiator needs before she or he faces the opposition is a solid image of him- or herself.

The popular psychological term 'self image' suggests a single visual representation that tells a person who he or she is - a vital part of one's identity. After years of experimentation I have found rules that the self image obeys. It is an often-entirely-unconscious picture standing some­where in front of the person, that is connected by means of an imagi­nary and also unconscious link to a primarily unconscious feeling of self in the body. This complex of a feeling connected to a picture con­stitutes the core of the self experience. Its unconscious nature has kept this structure hidden from mainstream social psychologists.

The visual part, the self image itself, is very flexible; most of it is made up by the person's fantasy. Precisely because people cannot see themselves directly, they have to create their self images out of their imaginations. And although the self-image has almost no factual basis, it still influences people to an enormous extent. Nowhere in life is one's fantasy so overwhelmingly influential as in the functioning of one's self image!


In social panorama workshops I have been experimenting with encounters between people with varying levels of self awareness. Self awareness was manipulated by having people shift the submodalities of their self image from big and close to small and far away. The quali­ty of someone's self image clearly translates into a nonverbal impres­sion, varying from power to weakness, that is communicated before anything else. The balance between the power of one's self image and the image one has formed of the opponent is decisive during a con­frontation. Domination or submission are settled instantly on the basis of subtle nonverbal cues that result from social programming (K)llma, 1991; Hall, 1966). In other words, knowing a person to be an authority makes her or him an authority. This is dramatized in a funny manner in the movie Star Wars. The queen comes to negotiate peace with the fed­eration council, and she makes use of her 'natural authority'. Later we find out that the real queen was passing herself off as a servant of a decoy queen. So it was the decoy queen who conducted the negotia­tions, causing everybody to admire her and to submit to her. This illus­trates how people tend to attribute authority to the authority-figure; it is only the way they represent a person internally, in their own minds, that creates social power.

A person who follows Robert Greene's (1998) 48 laws of power will create powerful mental images in their own, and everybody else's, social panoramas.


2 Check locations, since Relation = location

The social panorama model emphasizes location as the critical sub­modality in social life. Everything centers around the question: Where is a certain personification located? The experience of self, however, is a special case. The so-called 'self personification' is often located at two (or more) distinct sites. The kinesthetic part (kinesthetic self) is often within the body, while the visual part (the self image) is most often straight in front, outside the person. The precise location of the self image is quite critical for the quality of the self experience. So the direc­tion and distance from the kinesthetic self to the self image are the first things to find out about it. After clarifying the location, one may explore its size and color. Power in negotiation comes largely from a self image that is straight in front, strongly connected to the kinesthetic self in the body, large in size and bright in color. Unity in this image reflects con­gruity. A strong self image informs the negotiator continuously about her or his position and about the role to take. But this comes at a price.


Flexibility of role

Besides making a strong impression, awareness of who one is is of great strategic value in negotiating. How one defines oneself determines the role one will take during the debate. An inappropriate role will under­mine one's position. For instance, had Ahtisaari chosen the role of a personal friend of Milosevich, they would certainly have had dinner together.

The information that tells a person what role to take in a certain sit­uation comes primarily from what I call the 'contextual self image' (Derks 1998). This image varies in content along with the situation comes primarily from what I call the 'contextual self image' (Derks 1998). This image varies in content along with the situation (Gergen, 1991), in contrast to an all-over 'global self' (Kunda, 1999) or to a constant 'trans-temporal self' (Derks, 1998). The exploration of such context-bound, often very vague and unconscious pictures, requires a skilled and self-assured NLP-er.

No such NLP-er was available to check on Ahtisaari's contextual self image in Belgrade. But if we believe the anecdote, he might have seen himself as something like Milosevich's teacher, ordering him to do his homework.

A clear self image provides one with eminence, but it may on the other hand also limit a negotiator in his or her flexibility to change role or to respond with a role complementary to that of the opponent. What is won on the proactive side of the game may often be lost on the reac­tive side of it.

Had Ahtisaari seen himself only as a teacher, he might have focused too much on teaching Milosevich something (for instance, to be nice to his people). But to close this peace deal, he needed another role - to act like a salesmen who wants his customer to sign a contract.

Flexibility in negotiations often means the ability to shift from one position to the other, to match or purposely mismatch the role of the opponent. Social roles are only available if they are stored somewhere;


one needs to have memo­rized these roles as inner social models that can be transformed into opera­tional self images at the right moment in time. Critical for effecting such potential self images is their link to the kinesthetic self. Without such links to the feeling of self in the body, the roles cannot be 'embodied' and thus remain dissociated. If Ahtisaari knew only that he had to take on the role of a salesman, but could not find a way to 'own' it, to associate with it, he would not have been so flexible.

For sure, another aspect of flexibility in negotiations comes from being able to shift perceptual position. But the ability to take second position is not only a virtue and a sign of socia-emotional intelligence.

It also happens automatically when a person becomes dominated by another (Derks 1998). Acting autonomously means staying in first per­ceptual position most of the time. The ability to do this depends large­ly on how prominently the other party is represented.


3 The image of the other party

The next thing to explore when preparing a negotiator is the represen­tation of the other party. What is the distance and size of the image of the opponent? Does the negotiator have to look up to meet their eyes? Ahtisaari might have visualized Milosevich straight in front of him, on a equal level or, in contrast, down below him, which would have made a huge experiential difference. The height of the other will indicate sta­tus. The angle of approach will signify the difference between con­frontation and cooperation. That is why some experienced negotiators tend to always imagine the other party beside them. And they also try to be seated in that way in reality. The story goes that Begin and Sadat were placed side by side in their successful peace talks at Camp David; in front of them was a white board on which the treaty was to be for­mulated.

A major point to examine is the location and size of the other party in relation to the location and size of the self image, because as soon as the other party is visualized as higher and bigger and closer than the self image, the other will dominate the experience. A 'law of the domi­nant personification' (Derks 1998) predicts that a person goes into sec­ond position with any personification that is represented as more prominent than him- or herself. So if Ahtisaari had represented Milosevich as bigger, higher up, or closer to himself than his self image, this would have resulted in Ahtisaari being overpowered and dominat­ed. The resulting submissive attitude would have made Ahtisaari focus on the needs and wishes of Milosevich, and at the same time lose sight of his own stakes.

It seems to be very hard for politicians not to be intimidated by vio­lent tyrants. Knowing that someone is a rough and brutal ruler who kills and tortures his people seems to impress most of us on a very basic level- is it fear? This resembles the difficulty most of us have in 'look­ing down' on rich people when we meet them; is this jealousy or greed?

Maybe Ahtisaari studied Milosevich's personal history to free him­self from his violent charisma. Maybe he learned to see him as a man both of whose parents had committed suicide when he was still a boy. Maybe he saw a lonely kid? In all probability he approached him in a more business-like way, for Ahtisaari was sent by the European Union to make a treaty with this other state leader. So maybe he saw him at equal size and elevation. Who can tell?


4 Check out the support

The fourth thing to explore is the experienced back-up, which most often consists of one or more group personifications. Negotiators tend not to experience themselves as standing alone in their task. They are chosen, elected, appointed or inducted by others. Probably some­where behind and around them they will have images of the groups and institutions that they are working for. How they experience their sup­port will be quite decisive for how solidly they are able to operate. Ahtisaari, being the democratically-chosen president of Finland, had at least his own electorate behind him. On this occasion, the support of the other EU member countries and their leaders was probably even stronger. Maybe he realized himself that the bulk of mankind was sup­porting him in his effort to end the Kosovo crisis. This might as well have given him wings. He probably felt this huge backup pushing him forward in a very massive way, even more so when his supporters were among the most powerful people on earth. Looking back at his self image, he could probably also see how this was backed up by all his supporters. This will have given him constant information that his mis­

sion was morally justified and for the good of mankind at large.

So what he felt behind him was pushing him, but maybe he was also aware that he was working towards a future in which global thinking would end all tribal and ethnic stupidity. This might have pulled him like a magnet in the same direction.

Negotiators that fail to experience a backup at all, and these are very common in business, may have to create their backup for themselves. Often it suffices to suggest that they imagine all their friends and family behind them. Even when these people have nothing to do with the issue of the negotiations, they can do a great deal of good for the negotiator.


5 Test the quality of the connection to the back up

The fifth necessary component of a negotiator's social panorama lies in the connection the negotiator feels between her supporters and her­self. For Ahtisaari this must have been something very solid indeed. He probably felt warm inter-personal connections from behind and beside him. The day before, he had been in Belgrade in the company of the Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin; neither Finland nor Russia are members of NATO, so both were at peace with Serbia. The fact that a Finn and a Russian together came to talk peace is in itself significant: both neutral, but historic enemies. (fhe Finns fought Russia alongside Hitler; Russian occupied parts of Finland after the war.) This may have helped Milosevich to shift the historic justification of the Kosovo war into the background.

On the other hand, Milosevich was rapidly losing his international support at that time. When he looked over his shoulder, there were no more Russians standing behind him; Chernomyrdin stood beside Ahtisaari. Nobody apart from a totally indoctrinated and potentially divided Serbia was there to be seen. Of course he had probably the most positive image of that, one that gave his course a heroic hue. But maybe he felt cut loose from this backup at this point in history; and that may have brought him to the point where he gave in.


6 The second position self image

The sixth aspect to review before we send someone off to the verbal battlefront is the second position self image: How does the negotiator believe the other party sees him- or herself?

To Milosevich, Ahtisaari was probably a stranger; he had not much of an image of him, nor could he make up an accurate second position self image. He might have had no idea of how Ahtisaari placed himself within this special context. Ahtisaari may have behaved a little humble at first, just like many Finns, not giving himself much importance, but he probably acted at the same time as self confident and very task­oriented. When Milosevich met Ahtisaari for the first time, he saw a man who was a little overweight and needed the help of a walking stick. This of course would not immediately impress Milosevich, but maybe it reminded him of the former US Secretary of State and Middle East peace talker Eagleburger, who kept Israel from firing back on Iraq during the Gulf war. Who knows?

Ahtisaari on the other hand had easy access to information about Milosevich. Many diplomats could have told him about Milosevich's character and idiosyncrasies. He was probably aware'that Serbia's leader still saw himself pretty big: Extra Kingsize. As far as we can speculate, mismatching Milosevich's self image was the main point in Ahtisaari's inner strategy. He did not mirror back anything that sup­ported Milosevich's megalomania, but he probably saw him quite real­istically: a medium size politician, with a worn international backup.

Of course most of this article consists of reasonable guesses. Nevertheless, one single historic fact stands out: Ahtisaari managed to take an irresistible role in these negotiations: he sure had the right pic­tures in mind.


Changing personifications

NLP-ers will easily understand that when personifications are regarded as parts of the person, the ways to improve a negotiation panorama depends on the rules by which personifications can be changed (see Derks, 1998 for technical details).

1 Personifications can be moved to better locations.

2 Personifications can be enriched with resources.

3 Personifications can be mixed and merged with other personifica­tions.

4 Individual personifications can be separated from group personifi­cations.

5 Sub personifications can be separated from individual personifica­tions.


An example with big practical consequences

Adrian worked for the tax department. His task was to negotiate with companies who could not fulfil their obligations. Adrian said that this work was most difficult when the companies and their managers were really weak. Sometimes he had to take payment measures that could force them to the brink of bankruptcy or beyond. 'However cruel, that's my job,' he said. 'Nobody likes to pay. But everyone must! On the other hand, the rules are not always totally honest. Some people fall prey to the system.'

I asked Adrian to pick out an example. He recalled being actively involved in talks with the owner of a firm that had failed to follow the correct procedures for getting its debt reevaluated. So there was no legal reason left for granting a further respite. We explored Adrian's negotiation panorama in this case.

Adrian had very mixed feelings about these talks. He saw the other party, the business owner, as small and low down at four 'mental metres' distance. Behind him he could visualize some other staff mem­bers and the workers who would probably lose their jobs if the debt had to be paid. Adrian had a confusing self image; it was double. It was located in two sites: one big and close by with only his head and shoul­ders. The other self image was smaller and further away but had a com­plete body to it. Looking over his shoulder revealed something unex­pected: the tax department looked a mess. Although it was big in size, it wasn't a whole. It was in conflict. Some parts were pushing Adrian to collect the tax money at any price, other parts observed ideologies of their own and adhered to more modest attitudes.

The second position self image of the business owner consisted of a small and powerless victim of bureaucracy. That was how this man saw himself, according to Adrian's inner exploration. Looking at it from sec­ond position made Adrian dislike himself, his job, the tax department and the Dutch kingdom as a whole!

'If I go into this talk like this,' Adrian said, 'I will be a little too friend­ly and my hesitation will suggest to that man that there is still hope for him. But later I will send him the tax department's decision; a death sen­tence. So what should I do?'

I told Adrian: 'Your image of the situation will decide ninety-nine per­cent of how the talks proceed. Representation dominates interaction. How you envision the other and yourself will decide the position you will take and the position you force the other party to take. So if you want to have a different interaction you need to have a different picture. Although at the start interaction may influence social imagery, as soon as the images are formed they will shape the interaction to a far greater extent than the content of communication does. Just as your parents still treat you as a child, regardless of how you talk, what you say and who you believe you are. The image they have of you dominates the interaction.' Adrian seemed to see the point.

So I asked him: 'What do you consider the weakest element in your negotiation panorama?'

'The tax department!' he answered without any hesitation. 'Okay,' I said, 'what kind of abilities do they lack? What's missing? What should they be able to do or to feel or to understand?' Adrian took quite a while to think about this. Then he said: 'They should know their place in society".

'Are you sure?' I asked him. 'Yes!'

Next we went in search of a moment in his own life when he knew his place in society. When he had identified such an occasion, he was asked to fully associate into it. When he nodded that he felt in the mid­dle of it, I asked him to exaggerate the experience and find a symbolic color for it. He thought that 'light yellow' was alright. Then I asked him to imagine being surrounded by a cloud of this light yellow while still strongly experiencing 'knowing his place in society'.

Then I asked him to go back into the negotiation with the business owner, taking the light yellow along. As soon as he signalled that he had done this, I asked him to send the light yellow towards the tax depart­ment behind him: 'Give them a full shot of light yellow, until you see they know their place in society sufficiently.'

After a while Adrian smiled and said: 'They all turned yellow. . . and they have become more united now.

But the most interesting thing happened next. As soon as Adrian started to look forward to the business owner, he saw to his astonish­ment that the man had grown considerably. Not only had he become of Adrian's size, his backup also looked much more solid. Immediately Adrian changed his mind completely about this negotiations: 'I will tell

him straight away, that if he needs money, he should borrow it from a bank, not from the taxes; we are way too expensive.'

How was such a change possible?

Examples like this show how complex is the working of unconscious mind. Adrian's unconscious 'social operating system' understood the implications of the tax department becoming more aware of their place in society, and what this meant for Adrian's position in this negotiation and how that was going to affect the other party in the talks. His uncon­scious social knowledge was sufficient to exactly 'calculate' the effects of a change in one personification on the others involved in this talk.

In this way we could shed some light on the unconscious faculties that gave rise to the concept of 'social systems.'

Experience like the one with Adrian reveal that we should think of social systems as primarily composed not of people in interaction, but of complexes of social representations, of social panoramas influenc­ing each other. The latter view offers the superior technology for change. When representation dominates interaction, we should change the representations instead of laboriously trying to change the inter­action patterns in NLPeace.



Lucas A C Derks 2000



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Lucas A.C. Derks is a social psychologist who fell in love with Bandler and Grinder's work on 23 March 1977. He developed the Social Panorama Model over a ten-year period and it has found its way into master practitioner courses all over the world. Lucas can be reached at: Van den Boenhoffstraat 27, 6525 BZ Nijmegen, The Netherlands.