Home > The Monday Musings Column > on negotiation, part one

on negotiation, part one

The Brexit negotiations rumble on and regardless of where you stand on the UK leaving the EU I wonder if you have given any thought to the practicalities of those who are handling the problem from either side for it is not like any negotiation that I have ever seen or taken part in.
Like all of us I began negotiating as a child and whilst one’s skills at that age are largely limited to emotional blackmail, if you add in the professional life that I lucked into, I have been negotiating in one form or another for more than sixty-five years. Over that time I have used training and experience of doing the job to learn a little and to become competent enough to have been trusted to handle multi-million pound deals both buying and selling. I’ve negotiated with trade unions at national level and even concluded a couple of contracts in another language and a few where the other side has been from a different cultural background, but I’ve never had to negotiate in public.
The basics of a negotiation are simple: Two parties seek to agree on the terms of a transaction. Each will have a desired outcome and a walk away position along with one or more deal-breaker points that have to be part of the final deal. If the negotiation is one on one then you can pretty much do what you like so we’ll move up from that to significant commercial deals where there are stakeholders such as employees and shareholders to be satisfied. Not everyone gets a vote on what the deal looks like of course, but the outcome will be important to them in financial terms either through safeguarding their employment or protecting their share value and dividends. If the organisation is in the public sector then government and the public are also expecting you not to deliver their needs for value, but whoever these people are they cannot all have a say in your negotiation plans; the best they will get is to have you fired if you screw up.
In the case of us leaving the EU the government team are leaking against each-other as well as almost everyone on the opposition side leaking too. To try and negotiate when the other side knows your plan is just ludicrous, but I have had elements of that happen to me. Business organisations are not all sweetness and light between different functions and there have been times when I have been negotiating only to find that some disgruntled colleague has been tipping off the other side. It makes it harder in some ways, but you can use it to your advantage by making sure that the colleague concerned gets some false feedback; you bait the hook and bide your time so perhaps what we see now is just a classic bait and switch from the UK team?
My professional negotiating career started nearly fifty years ago and in the first two decades things were generally adversarial; if you got anything else you wondered what the other buggers were up to, but then as the nineties approached we got all touchy feely with win-win being the order of the day and we were all looking for meaningful strategic partnerships which really meant that we were just trying new tactics as everyone had rumbled the old ones. Cynical perhaps, but whilst there is a business sense to longer term relationships the cut-throat element was still there, just that the assassins were more smiley.
The EU were never going to be easy; they are desperate for the UK to stay on board and don’t want to do any deal if they can avoid it. They have the walk away card already out on the table so I wonder why so many here are against us having it too. It is an essential part of any negotiation and I’ll look at that next time.
Thanks for your time and see you next week.

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