El Chapo or Pablo Escobar

Who was the best negotiator?

I wrote before about Pablo Escobar and how his infamous “Plato or Plomo” (silver or lead). That made him, in my eyes, a savvy negotiator. I do not support illegal activities and the killing, but I am fascinated by how bad, and good people negotiate. Just like I despise Donald Trump, but his book The Art of the deal provides relevant insights.

So, in the villains’ negotiations series, I introduce villain #2 El Chapo Guzman. And as I research the topic, I realise that the timing is excellent! Because he is on trial right now in NYC, and it is a tourist attraction!

El Chapo. In case you are not watching the series on Netflix, El Chapo was once ranked the 41st wealthiest man in the world! How they calculated how rich he was, well probably the best guess, just like how they derive the wealth of everyone else on that list. Still, if you are on Forbes radar, you are RICH. And if you are rich through drug smuggling, you have left bodies behind you. In the Netflix series, the estimate is between 2000 and 3000 bodies. Again, no clue how accurate this is, but it is a lot if one loses track of killings!

Timeline refresh. First, there was the Medellin Cartel, then the Gentlemen of Cali and then the Guadalajara cartel before giving us El Chapo Guzman.

Beside all the atrocities, what did he do right, negotiation wise?

  • Explicit messages: As clear as it gets. The shipment does not arrive, you do not live another day. That way there are two options. The shipment arrives, or you die trying.
  • Consistency: No (good) surprises. No variations. It is always the same outcome if you do not deliver. And make sure there are plenty of witnesses to spread the word!
  • Patience: Make time work for you. Understand how to leverage it. Understand when you must rely on time and when you can influence and make things move in your favour. During one of the episode, they show how many times he had to try to get his wife and children out and how he will abort the plan if everything was not perfect
  • Unpredictable: “I’ll be where they would never expect me to be” this is how he expected to evade the Marines and also how he got caught. I am sure that this strategy allowed him to confuse everyone who was after him!
  • Collaborate: Partner when you have to. And when you are the world largest drug exporter, you probably need to partner with a lot of people. Still, you make billions; you must understand how to a little as needed while ripping off massive benefits!

I want to understand how good skills are used by bad people. With this type of skills, El Chapo could have been a very legit and powerful man and leave a fantastic legacy. It is disturbing, just like when I heard that 1 out of 100 people is a psychopath. oh yeah, I’ll close on that to let it sink…

Was Pablo Escobar the best negotiator?

“Plata o Plomo” (money or bullet) is probably the one negotiation concept that made Pablo

“Plata o Plomo” (money or bullet) is probably the one negotiation concept that made Pablo the most famous narco trafficker. In case you didn’t know, Pablo Escabor used to tell people he wanted to influence/coerce that they had a choice: Plata o plomo. I’ll explain why, but first I need to make a few things clear:  Yes, I am very interested in organized crime. No, I do not condone violence in any way.  I do, however, believe there is something to learn from almost any situation, and difficult situations are one of the fastest ways to learn.

So why is “plata o plomo” such a powerful phrase? Let’s explore it:

  • Plomo (bullet): Threatening to put a bullet in someone is definitely a powerful way to coerce, but not powerful enough for people who already put their life on the line for what they believe in e.g. some people in the army, and some police officers.
  • Plato (money): Offering money to force people to act, works for people who value money.  A lot of people fall into this category, but not everybody. Some people, especially in powerful positions may not value money enough to commit crimes – e.g. high-ranking politicians, businessmen or celebrities.

Then, the cherry on the cake: Pablo Escobar was giving people a choice.  This, in a strange way, puts them in control. Once you’re in control and you make your decision, you are more likely to own it and be committed to it.  Even if the choice was not really a choice.

I call this negotiation tactic “contrasting”.  It is a simple yet impactful method. You compare 2 opposing things. One terrible and one great. The bad one triggers the most powerful emotional hot button in people: The fear of losing something they already have.  The great one gives them a way out. And because they can decide the way out, it enables people to save face and own their decision.

This tactic is not only for people with a lot of power. Contrast anything in the right way and it will allow people to review a situation they thought they knew from a different perspective. Use it, abuse it and get what you deserve.