Homo sapiens is a complex social species and as a developed primate retains aspects of the behavior exhibited by other members of the order. Anthropology is relevant to the social behavior of human beings, i.e. groups and teams.

Culture is the expression of social behavior and of the ideas and concepts adopted by groups of humans.

Anthropology is the science of mankind, the study of man as an animal and of the nature of man (and woman).

The relevance of anthropology to the negotiator is clear, the negotiator must understand the nature of his fellow man.


Human and primate societies exhibit some basic elements:

  • primate societies work by establishing cooperation between their members, but are hierarchical. Cooperation therefore focuses on coalitions, especially between males, which secure power in the group.
  • chimpanzees have been observed using coalitions to modify the social hierarchy; in the case of the chimpanzees at Arnhem Zoo, an alpha male was supplanted by a rival after a new coalition was formed. In other words primates, not just humans, exhibit highly "political" behavior; such modes of behavior are therefore instinctive in us, not merely rational.
  • sexual division of labor (in Scandinavia 50% of all workers work in jobs where their own sex accounts for 90% of employees).
  • in tribal societies men hunt (for meat) and women gather (vegetables).
  • hunting groups placed a strong emphasis on cooperation between groups of males, as do chimpanzees.
  • tribal societies (and their families) are a mechanism for food sharing (food sharing - dinner in a restaurant remains an important human ritual).
  • long-term pair bonding (although this is under pressure in Western societies in the 21st century).
  • primate hierarchies are more marked among males than among females (though females can be key members of coalitions).

    The examples referred to above are taken from Matt Ridley's excellent book "The Origins of Virtue", published by Viking 1996. Another valuable book is Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal, Why We Are The Way We Are", pub. Little Brown, London 1995, which deals with evolutionary psychology.

    In negotiating it is important to remember that the instinctive bias of human beings is to cooperate, where advantages are apparent to the group. It is also important to understand that male bonding is an important part of primate behavior and that in lengthy negotiations it is vital to participate in social activities such as meals and drinking (especially in Northern European countries and Russia). It is said that no important deal in Russia, including the handing over of East Germany and the independence of the Baltic States, has been achieved without the heavy use of alcohol. Obviously alcohol will be absent from entertainment in Saudi Arabia, but in all societies there are clear expectations regarding such social behavior. In societies which do not accord women a full role, for example in the Middle East and some other countries in Asia, western women are sometimes treated as men for the purposes of social interaction.

    Social meetings often play a key role in "unofficial" discussions which enable negotiations to succeed. The negotiator may learn the real reasons for the failure of the other side to proceed in the way he expected. Information about coalitions and senior managers, who may have their own and different objectives, can play a critical role in achieving a successful deal. Take care to avoid any situation which could cause your own position to be undermined.