7 Negotiation Lessons to Learn from Netflix’s Squid Game

WARNING – Massive spoilers ahead.

This is content meant for those who have watched the series already. For those who haven’t watched Squid Game yet, please turn around. You have been warned.

Have you been watching Squid Game lately? You are not the only one!

The bloody survival series has been at the top of Netflix’s Top 10 list worldwide since it premiered in September and is now the streaming service’s most-watched series ever within three weeks.

Already 111 million people have watched the South Korean drama since it premiered on the service on Sept. 17. The series, in which indebted contestants are forced to compete against one another in twisted kill-or-be-killed games, has become a global phenomenon for its drama, but also for its interesting social processes. 


Which negotiation lessons can we,  negotiation experts- learn from the series? A top 7 to use to your advantage for your upcoming negotiations! For those who have not been watching yet: this article contains some huge spoilers!

1. Only say yes to a deal when you see the full picture 

What we can learn from Seong Gi-hun (#456)? The sympathetic divorced chauffeur and gambling addict that lives with his mother and struggles to support his daughter financially? 

He participates in the Game to settle his huge debts, and to prove himself financially stable enough to have custody of his daughter, who is to leave for the United States with her mother and stepfather. After the ‘slapping scene’ in the Metro station, Seong Gi-hun decides to step into the van towards the game, although he is not aware of the cruelty of his upcoming games. 

Driven by his desire to take care of his daughter, Seong is driven by a desire for money and hope, but the lesson for negotiators here is to never say yes to a deal, as tempting as some might be before you see the full picture and know all the variables. If it can’t be helped, ask questions, ask questions and ask questions to avoid unforeseen circumstances.

Read more about ‘the full picture’: https://procurementtactics.com/procurement-process/

2. Be soft but not weak, be strong but not aggressive.

This marble- episode was heart-shattering, to say the least. One of our Procurement Tactics’ favorite supporting cast members Ali got killed off. 

Ali was by far the most friendly character in Gi-hun’s team, but his kindness was also his undoing. In the game of marbles, the participants had to group into two and were suddenly hit with the shameless instruction that whoever wins all of their opponent’s marbles will be saved while the other will die.  Ali, unfortunately, agreed to pair with Sang-woo, who actually lost the marbles game to Ali. However, seeing that Ali was very reluctant to be the cause of his death, Sang-woo took advantage of Ali’s trust and was able to trick him into handing over his marbles. Ali’s soft nature was also his weakness, while Sang-woo did what he had to do to survive, and he did it without violence. All’s trust in Sang-Woo cost him his life.

What we can learn from Ali in negotiations, is that we should switch styles once in a while to get the best result. And don’t forget these important negotiation lessons: be cautious when help is offered.

Learn more about how to improve your own style here: https://procurementtactics.com/negotiation-styles/

3. Information is the driver key for success.

There are many great examples of how information in preparation is key for success in Squid Game, and we can learn all that from two games. 

Cho Sang-woo (#218), the former head of an investment team at a securities company and a junior classmate to Gi-hun, gets information via player #067 who witnesses workers melting pots of sugar, about what game 2 could be. The second game is revealed to be Ppopgi, where each player must perfectly extract a stamped shape from a honeycomb candy under a time limit. Sang-woo learns of Player 067’s discovery and recognizes the game beforehand, but does not warn his teammates and chooses the simplest shape for himself. The result: an easy game for him, but  Gi-hun ends up picking the most difficult shape, an umbrella, but is able to complete the game by licking the back of the honeycomb to melt it. 

Our second example is Byeong-gi (#111), the doctor that secretly works with a group of corrupt guards to traffic the organs of dead participants in exchange for information on upcoming games. The game is revealed to be a tug of war on two raised platforms, where a team wins by dragging the opposing team off their platform to their deaths. Gangster Deok-su, having learned of the game from the doctor beforehand, picks only strong men and they win their match easily.

These two examples are showing us what most of our procurement experts already know: preparation on getting as much information as possible is the key driver for success in any negotiation. Taking a ‘prepared’ seat at the negotiation table gives power, confidence, and creative solution thinking. Put 80% of your time in the preparation and 20% in the negotiation itself and you will achieve any wanted outcome. 

Read more: https://procurementtactics.com/how-to-get-in-your-counterparts-mind/

Editor's note:

The Negotiation Game Changer Certificate Program teaches you:

  • the skills needed to drive better, fact-based decisions that ultimately benefit both organizations and its employees.
  • a comprehensive analytics skill set that will enable you to achieve deals with results you have been dreaming of.

4. Create a connection & Karma never leaves you 

Don’t we all love Oh Il-nam (#001), an elderly man with a brain tumor who prefers playing the Game as opposed to waiting to die in the outside world? In the marble game in episode 6, Seong Gi-hun (#456) & Oh Il-nam (#001) form an initial bond and call each other their ‘Gganbu’. Seong then tries to cheat and take advantage of the elderly player’s fragile mental state to win the game and progress to the next stage, but however, Nam decides to give away his last marble to Seong Gi-hun in the end, because he was the only one that really took care of him during their time on the island. Karma wins it for Seong Gi-hun!

Lessons for us as procurement & sourcing experts: create a connection! In negotiations, it’s not the company that decides to agree or disagree to a deal, people do. Many procurement managers forget that to get things done, you need to adapt to what works -and what does not- for the person on the other side of the table. Make a connection! People who feel trusted and comfortable will behave more generously at the deal table. Listen instead of talking and pay attention to non-verbal communication to achieve insights into what works and what does not work.

Read more: https://procurementtactics.com/procurement-game-changer

5. Forming a (diverse) team increases chances of success

In episode 3, when Deok-su kills a player accusing him of taking extra food, the staff does nothing to stop him, and in fact, increases the prize money’s value. After lights go out, a riot erupts in the dormitory as players attack each other.

With a violent night ahead, Gi-hun’s and his newly made ‘friends’ which he formed a group with, survive and exchange names to build trust. Forming a group helped the members to survive the night because they helped & protected each other, which is a good lesson we can also apply in negotiations. 

Working with a negotiation team brings multiple benefits: two heads know more than one

Teams are better at making accurate judgments and feel less pressured and more powerful.

 In many scenarios, a team will outperform a solo negotiator. This can be attributed to several factors: A heightened sense of competition, the tendency to challenge the view of the team members. Watch out:  effective negotiation can also be hampered by destructive coalitions and factions. For these reasons, openly encourage members of your negotiation team to share opposing views, perhaps even assigning a “devil’s advocate” to fill that role.

Read more:  https://procurementtactics.com/negotiation-team/

6. Recognize, Respect ánd use Hierarchy to your advantage

Throughout the series, the trio of the circle, triangle, and square shapes appear frequently on
the cards are given to recruit players and on the guards’ masks. These are shapes associated with the playing field for the children’s game of Squid. They are also used to represent the hierarchy of the guards within the complex. Following the comparison with an ant colony, the guards with circles are considered the workers, triangles as the soldiers, and squares as the managers. Anyone who is wearing a square is a manager, and out of the three shapes, the squares have the most power. They oversee the soldiers and workers. Further, in the Korean alphabet, Hangul, the circle represents the romanized letter “O”, the triangle part of the letter “J”, and the square the letter “M”. Together, “OJM” are the romanized initials of Ojing-eo Geim, the Korean translation of Squid Game.[53]

When Han Mi-nyeo (#212) a loud and manipulative woman who claims to be a poor single mother needs to pee in one of the first episodes and access is denied by one of the ‘circles’, she directly shouts out “Hey, Triangle,” to the guy the red suit, because the circle won’t let her through. He does when she threatens to pee on the ground. Han shows here that she is able to understand hierarchy very fast and that she understands that talking to decision-makers is key to reaching your goal.

The decision-making authority at the table has no influence on your conversation, but it does on the negotiation. When the other side of the table can’t decide, engage in the conversation and put your demand on the table, but don’t have the illusion that it’s already going to be a negotiation. There’s no point in running a negotiation if the people around the table don’t have the authority to make a decision or agree to a deal. If you have the feeling your negotiation counterpart does not have any authority to close a deal: directly stop the negotiation.

Learn more: https://procurementtactics.com/procurement-template/

7. Only act when you have the skills

The last example we can use to our advantage for our upcoming negotiations is a bit of a joke, but have you also been so surprised (and possibly irritated) by the acting quality of the VIPs entering Squid Game in the last few episodes?
We created a list of 12 tips that every negotiator should use in every negotiation to achieve the deal results you have been dreaming of. Any of our readers that have a list like this for actors, please email  Netflix to avoid bad acting like this in any upcoming season.

Read more: https://procurementtactics.com/negotiation-tactics/ 


All the best,

The Procurement Tactics Team.

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