Saturday, December 09, 2006

Everyone Knows About Them

Someone mentioned to me that I tend to use a lot of scenarios from international relations for starting points for my Negotiation 101 lessons. It's true.

I do that because they are situations most discerning people know about, even if they have no idea what they would do if they were personally involved. (Heck, I don't know what I would do, if I had a grasp on all the subtle details.) They are also high stakes, and generate some emotion.

The emotion, high stakes, and complexity are what I find make for lessons people will remember, and that is why I use them as takeoff points. They are negotiation situations of the highest water, and worth discussing.

Still, if you have a situation you'd like to use as a starting point - perhaps a situation you really have or expect you might get into - by all means please send it to me at NP(at) and I will try to add a posting.

Thanks very much and Happy Holidays.

Phil Marcus, the Negotiation Pro

Friday, December 08, 2006

That SOB Has To Give Up His Ace Before I’ll Talk With Him.

The recent Iraq Study Group report and the various reactions to it shine a light on a frequent problem in all kinds of negotiation and dispute resolution.

The Study Group recommended that the US and Israel, with slightly different interests, both begin talks with Iran and Syria. The idea for the US is to find a way to extricate itself from Iraq. From what I can tell, Pres. Bush refuses to speak with Iran until and unless Iran in advance gives up its apparent vision of having nuclear weapons.

I am not going to tell the world’s leaders how to solve the Iraq and Israel/Palestine problems. I don’t have all the facts. Still, as I have said, this position shines light on a stance people sometimes take in negotiating. Simply stated, “I will not sit down with that SOB unless he first [gives up his strongest negotiating card, his ace].” Well, you know he is not going to, and things will remain at impasse, likely with continual provocation back and forth.

What’s going on? Some folks think that a negotiating position that strong will pressure the other person to give up his ace and back down. Not likely.

For some folks it isn’t a tactic. They really are that stubborn, and don’t care whether the other person gives up his ace, as long as they don’t have to change their stated position that demands that the other person does give up his ace. That is, it is pure stubbornness, a/k/a “principal.” Things will remain at an impasse with escalating hostility a long time. Just the same as if it were just a negotiating tactic.

How does that impasse get broken down and a deal get done? Maybe it can’t be. Maybe both sides have to be so bloodied they can no longer stand, and the people who eventually take over for them are more reasonable.

There is another way. The person with the unmeetable demand can permit someone to negotiate for him (or her) without apparent authority. This ‘back channel’ can open a door. True, at the start there will be little if any trust on either side. So, why negotiate with someone you don’t trust?

The short answer is if you don’t you will never resolve the issues, and may spend years in hostile disagreement, with each side taking various types of hits. Or break a deal that might be good for both sides.

The longer answer is trust can be built up with a series of small concessions, sometimes as little as the shape of the bargaining table. (Don’t laugh. The negotiations that ended the Viet Nam War took several years and in the beginning focused on that subject.)

The gradual process can help each side understand the other and learn what makes the other tick, partly based on carrying through with promises and on operating in apparent good faith. Note that good faith is not the same as caving in. It means honesty and a degree of candor.

Why negotiate with your enemy? Because, again, if you don’t you will remain at war. That may be as small as continuing exchanges of neighborhood nastiness like throwing garbage over the fence at 2 a.m. or making unnecessary noise. Of course, it can be as large as confrontations of thousands or millions of heavily armed troops. Or something in between. It always means no-one wins. In other words, the alternative to talking with your enemy stinks.

Negotiation 101: Consider sitting down to talk with your sworn enemy or someone you don’t trust a danged bit, because if you don’t the alternative stinks.