Negotiating With A Snake
Negotiating with the snake, whose element is earth, takes careful concentration.
The snake has no hands. It slithers on its stomach. The snake rears up, then waits patiently to strike and quickly coils back. In some kung fu systems, it may even squeeze its prey. The organ systems associated with the earth element are the stomach and spleen, and practitioners of snake forms must have strong and strangely flexible abdomens. They withdraw from a punch by coiling in their stomachs and explode outward in a precise attack driven by those coiled muscles. As the abdomen is where their power lies, so it is where tension is stored.
Snakes in the wild elicit primal fear. In Western society, the snake has negative connotations associated with the eviction from the Garden of Eden. In the Bible, Jacob develops sciatica after a victorious wrestling match with archetypal overtones, and to this day kosher-keepers don’t eat cuts of meat containing the gid nahash, or snake nerve. In India, the kundalini energy climbing the spine is pictured as a snake. In China, the snake is treated with such respect that its archetype gets used not only in martial arts but also in astrology.
Snake people are grounded and patient. Patience can come across as sneakiness or, if they let you into their game, quiet planning. In the real world, these skills can pay off, so one should not be surprised to find ambitious snake people in leadership positions. In the negative aspect of the archetype, you may not know quite where you stand with them.
How can you identify them walking into your office? They often seem impassive, like a Japanese sarariman standing behind his boss. They may have economy of movement, but since most people tense up under stress that’s hard to pick out. The hand on the knotted stomach may be a sign, but it’s common enough not to be dispositive. Rarely, I have seen people move unconsciously with subtle juts and retreats of the stomach, but that’s really hard to pick out since people in negotiations are generally clothed! My kung fu teachers have told me that it’s even hard for them as practiced observers to see if students are moving properly, since “the snake is the most internal of the animal forms.” Usually we have to rely on other clues.
One deals with a snake by recognizing that, as someone who prefers being grounded, details matter. He will happily lose himself in them and avoid abstracting to the larger situation. He may even get so distracted by them he cannot reach a conclusion without help. You must start with details but work on getting him to see the big picture. Opening with talk of big principles will bore him; he will not hear them, like a colorblind person being asked to pick out the big red block.
There comes a moment in many negotiations and mediations where one side suddenly sees the other’s perspective. There may not be agreement on whether it’s valid, but that transformation brings down a certain barrier of “otherness” and lets the disputants either begin to build a common story or let go of their own story and the need to prove it so they can focus on the bottom line. It’s tough to get there with a true snake, but it can be done if you chip away slowly.