2. Negotiation: Br’er Rabbit — The Father of Modern Negotiations

Now that I’ve given you some background about negotiations, let’s get into some do’s and don’ts. The credit goes to some big names in the field of negotiations. They have laid the groundwork for the techniques you will be using to persuade your spouse to give you what you want.

Some would say Machiavelli’s Prince is the founder of modern negotiations. This simply is false. Modern sophistication, brought on by the advent of television, travel, and education for the masses, has outdated the crude brute force, deception, and sleight-of-hand tricks proposed in The Prince.

The true father of modern bargaining, few people realize, is no less than the great Br’er Rabbit, who, by sheer persuasion, used the little bargaining power he possessed to convince Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear not to make him into rabbit soup. This was a significant accomplishment.

But, before we get into the methods developed by Br’er Rabbit, we need to consider some basic concepts developed by Br’er Rabbit’s great teacher, Tar Baby. Tar Baby, as you recall, was sitting by the road when Br’er Rabbit came along. The rabbit became angered because Tar Baby would not return the cheerful greeting he offered. Finally, the rabbit started hitting and kicking Tar Baby. With each blow, he became more caught in the sticky tar.

Now, that’s when Tar Baby set out the foremost rule of negotiation, which Uncle Remus tells us when he says, “Tar Baby, he don’t say nothin’!” This statement is repeated over and over. The more Br’er Rabbit struggled, squirmed, screamed, threatened, hit, and kicked, the more Tar Baby refused to talk. Hence, the words, “Tar Baby, he don’t say nothin’,” have been written as the immortal ground rules in bargaining. If you wake up in the middle of a bargaining session feeling lost, hurt, wronged, confused, sick, unsure, overpowered, or anemic, you can, with some safety, harken back to the famous words, “Tar Baby, he don’t say nothin’.”

In other words, “negotiating” does not mean calling your lawyer and your spouse every day just to keep up conversation. Nor does it mean calling your spouse’s mother and telling her what you have always suspected about her kinship with other species. If you call your spouse when you’re depressed, you may end up telling him or her that you value the new sleeper sofa, which he or she so selfishly refuses to let you have, more than all your other household furnishings combined. This will virtually ensure that your new rented apartment will be furnished with a sleeper sofa and nothing else.

Well, enough about Tar Baby. Except: If you ever find yourself in a negotiation session where you are doing all the talking—stop. Feel to make sure you still have your wallet. Then consider that the other team may have studied at the feet of Tar Baby. It is important to your health that the other side utter such words as “yes,” at least occasionally. If they don’t, bid them good day and leave. This is what Tar Baby would do under similar circumstances.

And now we return to the rabbit. Shortly after Br’er Rabbit became totally stuck in Tar Baby, Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox came out of the bushes where they were hiding. After they finished laughing themselves almost senseless about Br’er Rabbit’s predicament, they discussed what to do with their captured game. At first, the conversation centered around simply making rabbit soup. The rabbit’s response to this was that rabbit soup was fine, “but whatever you do, don’t fling me in that brier patch.” Whereupon the bear and the fox decided that soup wasn’t good enough, or bad enough, depending on how you look at it. They then discussed a number of other possibilities, ranging from cutting the rabbit into small chunks right down to letting ants eat him in the hot sun. But whatever they suggested, the rabbit always responded by saying that particular suggestion would be all right, “but whatever you do, don’t fling me in that brier patch!”

Well, the bear and the fox became so intrigued with the idea, that they did, in fact, throw Br’er Rabbit in the brier patch. And since Br’er Rabbit liked the brier patch and lived there, the fox and the bear had to suffer the humiliation of hearing him laughing and singing somewhere out in the briers where they couldn’t catch him.

Now, what can we learn from all of this?

Robin M. Green, Divorce: When It’s the Only Answer (The Ordinary Mortals Guide, Inc., 2005), Chapter 13, pp. 191-192.