Wednesday, November 8, 2017

BREXIT: Navigating Highly Complex Negotiations

Our work as negotiation consultants involves not only the negotiation process itself, but we are often required to design an overall negotiation structure with which to facilitate productive negotiations. This is particularly true of highly complex negotiations where multiple interest groups must be engaged, and many complex issues need to be resolved. Examples might be land usage and environmental negotiations, policy and regulation negotiations, and peace negotiations in conflict-infested regions.

In these kinds of negotiations, success is largely contingent upon how the negotiating structure is setup: who will be represented and who will represent; how will discussions and dialogue be managed; how will information be shared; what should the sequence of the issues be; how will decisions be made and ratified, and so on.

The design of the negotiation structure is, in itself, a complex negotiation which needs to precede the later substantive negotiations so as to increase the chance of overall success.

Perhaps the paradigm of extremely complex negotiations today is the Brexit negotiations – the “divorce” and untangling between England and the European Union. There are many stakeholders both in Europe and the United Kingdom, with a plethora of very complicated issues that need to be resolved in a way that all parties can live with. Issues include the looming questions of: trade; migration; Britain meeting her financial commitments to the EU budget; rights of citizens and workers; the border within Ireland (between the Republic of Ireland which will remain in the EU and Northern Ireland which will leave the bloc as part of the UK). These together with many other thorny issues will need to be negotiated.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NAFTA Negotiations: Framing the Problem Constructively

Consider a negotiation where a land developer is negotiating with a building contractor to build a development of townhouses to rent or sell. Negotiations are going well until the developer demands a clause for an enormous liquidated damages penalty if the project is not completed on schedule. The contractor now feels exploited and pushed towards what he perceives to be an unfair and unbalanced contract. The developer is adamant that because of previous experiences with contractors and losses he has suffered due to delays, he will not agree to a contract without a heavy liquidated damages clause.

The contractor will likely see his current problem in the negotiation to be how to eliminate the liquidated damages clause, while the developer sees his problem as how to convince the contractor to accept an unreasonable liquidated damages clause.

Typically, as in this example, there is no joint, intersecting definition of the problem to be solved, but rather parallel and polarized definitions as each sees his problem from his particular perspective. Furthermore, both contractor and developer in this case, have framed their respective problems in very narrow, limited and zero-sum-like contexts which often leads to sub-optimal outcomes at best and impasse at worst.

How we frame and define the negotiation problem that needs to be solved if parties are going to agree, can frequently make the difference between agreement and impasse.

NAFTA - A Live Case Study
This week, the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) renegotiation is entering its fourth round of talks in Washington D.C.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Have Diplomatic Efforts Been Exhausted

As North Korea threatens the United States and the world, the National Security Council of the UN considers options available that might deter them. There are two options currently being debated, a military option or economic sanctions.

The military option is problematic, because it would likely result in horrific loss of life in South Korea, the very partner we have pledged to protect by way of treaty. Furthermore, if just one North Korean nuclear weapon survives in such an attack, the results could be devastating.

The sanctions option comes with its own challenges. To stand any chance of success, it would require a reluctant China to stop all trade with North Korea. Additionally, we have no precedent to date where sanctions delivered a decisive blow to cause a swift lifting of hands in surrender. The time that it will take for sanctions to take meaningful effect will be too long, by which time time North Korea will have already developed a nuclear capability to hit the US mainland. Furthermore, Putin, who understands the North Korean mentality better than we in the West do, has stated categorically that they would “prefer to eat grass, rather than to give up their nuclear program” – an opinion we should consider seriously.

This leaves us with the nagging question: Has diplomacy been exhausted?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

(or the "Differentiation Dilemma")

As service providers or in any sales, one of the more intimidating, but inescapable aspects of the business, is meeting with prospective clients and trying to obtain new accounts. We are not taught how to do this effectively in school, nor do we deliberately go out and seek training or coaching to improve our skills (although that would be money well invested). We attempt an ad-hoc approach without a road map and process, which results in unpredictable and hit-or-miss outcomes.

One of the more threatening situations that we often encounter, is what I call the "differentiation dilemma". In this column, I will equip you with an approach and process to respond to this potentially perilous encounter with a greater rate of success.

While attempting to win over a new client, we may think that we are impressing them with our professional knowledge and acumen. All seems to be perfectly aligned as we begin to feel quite proud of our salesmanship and performance.

However, that euphoric feeling can be rather abruptly shattered when the prospective client says: "So, tell me, why I should hire or buy from you over the other hundred providers/suppliers who called my office last week?"

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


When confronted with apparent dishonesty, we feel betrayed, angry, anxious and disappointed. We are also confused as to whether we should confront it or ignore it, or how to confront it if we need to. If we ignore it, we are at risk of allowing it to continue, and if we confront it we risk the relationship - hence the conundrum or the "Dishonesty Dilemma".

A dilemma by definition does not allow for elimination of risks and dangers, and the best we can do is to mitigate the risks while curtailing potential damage and harm.

Although there is not one answer for all situations, in this column we offer guidelines to apply and a thought process to work through to ensure an effective and constructive response.