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How to get people to do what you want (part 2)

Theresa May has just given £1.1bn in return for the support of 10 DUP MPs, so who knows how badly she will cave in to the demands of 27 European countries. Bear in mind that these far-right MPs would have supported her anyway against Corbyn and his supposed links to Sinn Fein.

The Brexit negotiations are looming, supposedly the most important in a lifetime and she and colleague/rival, David Davis (so bad they named him twice) seem unlikely able to negotiate themselves out of a paper bag.

The overall principles of negotiation are simple: the job of both parties is to move towards an agreement that each can be happy with, even though what is decided necessitates some compromise. Negotiations are rarely characterised by one party getting exactly what they want and the other nothing; the principle of aiming for what is called a “win-win” solution, should always guide the discussions. Most often, and certainly in this case, parties have to live with each other afterwards and any ongoing resentment and outrage at being taken to the cleaners will not prompt future trust and cooperation.

Here are five key principles to observe in any negotiations.


Aim high
No-one gets more than they initially demand. Negotiation (and compromise) will always move down the scale. So anything other than starting with an initial stance that aims high makes no sense whatsoever. The ritual of negotiations demands this too: the other party will expect it and anything else will lack credibility. It helps to come over as a serious player, a competent force to be reckoned with, if not exactly as being bloody difficult.
Work out what the other side want
What are the things about which they will negotiate? This can be difficult (and with Brexit the list will be long), but it is important, as the other side of the coin is finding that when things seem complete and agreed, someone adds something previously held back. So a good deal of asking and listening is necessary, much of it ahead of making an individual case.

Negotiation is a process of trading
Without trading lists of differing, and likely disparate, wants – demands – elements to be decided will simply sit opposite each other and go nowhere. Stalemate is a real possibility. Much of negotiation consists of an “if you do this, I’ll do that” approach. The elements to be traded vary in importance and, in part, the process strives to make the other party believe that the importance of different things is more, or less, than it actually is. Thus one can trade something comparatively minor and be seen to be making a major concession. Much to-and-fro discussion is often necessary to establish how important things are and what level of flexibility there might be on each side; some compromise is always essential, yet everyone wants the best deal possible, and to get that, concessions are essential.

Keep it civil
On the way through this process, agreement may seem impossible and tempers may fray. Yet threats and ultimatums will make things worse. A whole raft of suggestions and different permutations may need to be offered on a “What if …” basis, until a solution that seems equitable to both parties is arrived at. It is important that each party believes that there are things the other will not do or agree. A willingness to walk away must often be seen as a real possibility if a mutually beneficial arrangement is not found.

See it through to the end
Ultimately everything up for negotiation needs to be agreed in some way. Another rule is never to agree to just part. If a concession is made, it is difficult if not impossible to go back on it; what matters ultimately is the balance of factors decided. With Brexit the list of things to negotiate is simply huge, so agreeing everything together in the round, so to speak, may not be possible. How this is handled will doubtless make for still greater complexity.

A negotiation plays out slowly, with each party keeping some things close to their chest and yet trying to appear reasonable and persuasively make their point of view easy to agree with. The Brexit negotiations are set to last almost two years and as Theresa May currently seems to be working under a zero hours contract, she may not be involved towards the end of the process.

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