Hands Shaking

A Summer of Reminders for Successful Negotiation

This summer has been full of significant sets of negotiation in the political arena at home and abroad. These events illustrate some of the key dynamics of negotiation such as power, time, information and compromise. These hold true whether negotiations occur between countries/provinces, organizations or individuals.

Let’s take a look at how our examples from the summer played out:

Alberta’s Rachel Notley after her very first Premier’s Conference in St John’s Newfoundland made this telling comment:

“Negotiations are not about standing in the corner and having a tantrum. Negotiations are about what you get at the other end. That’s what I’m focused on now”. She was  referring to her sparring with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall over how to make the sale with the Eastern provinces with respect to the Energy East Pipeline. What Notley had been trying to do is collect information in this case on how environmental concerns that Quebec has might be mitigated. The premier was criticized by some for taking too conciliatory an approach but really was simply displaying an understanding that if the government of Quebec was to change its stance, they would have to have a palatable “get” as well. Any successful negotiation involves compromise and concessions by both sides providing that they are part of a process of yielding to reasonableness.

Where Premier Notley may have been naive is too suggest that tantrums have no place in negotiation. They may have no place in interpersonal dealings. However, they can be one of the tactics behind a strategy designed to be successful over a long and protected negotiation involving representatives from two sides.

Overseas in Vienna Austria the two camps led by America’s John Kerry and Iran’s Muhammed Javad Zarif had been clearing roadblocks by first of all focusing on what they could agree on. However, the elephant in the room remained. A major dispute lingered over whether a ban on Iran’s ability to purchase conventional weapons and missile technology would remain in place. With the Russians and Chinese aligned with Iran, which side had the most “power” was very debatable. Both countries had invested considerable time but  the Kerry-Obama camp was more reluctant to leave the table empty handed. There were shouts and confrontations over 17 days, some real and some staged. Although the two countries were negotiating with different agendas, what resulted in the 11th hour was a compromise that both sides could live with. Finally after a period of years, each side came to understand what mattered most to the other.

You couldn’t ask for a more lopsided setting for a negotiation than the one that faced Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. After a marathon 23-hour session August 11th in Athens, Tsipras agreed to bring forth a number of policy reforms in exchange for the third bailout by Euro Zone creditors, this one totaling up to 86 billion Euros. Tsipras was between a proverbial rock and a hard place. Negotiators for both sides faced the unenviable position of not being necessarily able to “deliver” on their side of the agreement. For the Germans who had contributed most to the two previous bailouts, throwing good money after bad was becoming intolerable. For the Greeks, it was accepting new terms of austerity they had long fought against or get thrown out of the Eurozone. They had run out of time, Eurozone negotiators had all the perceived power and once the Greek Finance Ministry had agreed to open up their books to outside inspectors, the information required to demand specific reforms was in abundance. Tsipras was dealing with a different set of cultural values and pressured by time tried to “split the difference” as pressure mounted from the EU nations. When you do that you end up working for your opposer’s needs who then tend to toughen their position. Tsipras reluctantly had to agree to a series of austerity measures that divided his party, forced a September 20th election and may yet isolate his country.

Power, time, information, and compromise; four key negotiating dynamics that were very much on display in these three examples.

We learn as kids how to negotiate. We also learn that when we go too far in with what we are asking for, or are unreasonable or disrespectful in our approach, we’re going to hear a resounding NO. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in business over the years is when to stop pushing. All parties to a negotiation should come out with some needs satisfied. Win-lose deals may be destructive to the loser at the time, but they also usually catch up to the winner in the long run.

Mark Olson
Managing Partner & Principal

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