The threatening return of Negotiations-Middle Ages

April 19, 2018

Today’s tense political atmosphere is also a good reason to think about potential consequences of the recent development for future negotiations.

This week US President-elect Donald J. Trump gave an interview to German's biggest tabloid BILD. This interview led to a wave of indignation amongst people in Germany, even though the messages Mr. Trump sent were nothing new. Like I briefly described in a previous article, it is possible to negotiate with such people (“Trump-ists”) – if you manage to carefully prepare for some crucial aspects.

Today’s tense political atmosphere is also a good reason to think about potential consequences of the recent development for future negotiations. From my point of view we are heading towards a Negotiations-Middle Ages.

Why? We should not expect that President-elect Trump will stop venting his – in many ways extreme – positions in public. He has “tremendous” communication channels available in the 21st century. And we certainly know now his favorite. His view on some political and economic issues will continue polarizing people and will lead to one critical reaction of the worldwide political elite: indignation. Which is the source of an even bigger conflict.

As many politicians out there are not used to negotiating with people like Mr. Trump anymore, they will react in a predictable way (reflex): they will shout out their positions themselves. They also have a variety of communication channels at hand.

These public, and in part extreme, comments will make it almost impossible to give them up during the negotiation phase. People will remember the words and will interpret every concession as a sign of weakness. Any possible room for maneuvering will shrink if not disappear. Metaphorically speaking.

The second expected reaction is connected to the fact that there is almost no room to negotiate: each side will hire big international law firms to stay at their side. When conflicts can’t be solved through an interests-based approach, people will automatically search for jurisdiction. It that doesn’t work, they will go back one step to resolving the conflict through power, fight and combat. Hopefully we’re far away from that situation.

This means, in a nutshell, that we’re heading towards lose-lose-agreements, where a lot of value will remain unclaimed and where no subjective value is created. For any of the involved parties. They will literally will be acting as negotiation counterparts, and not like partners. This development is what I call Negotiations-Middle Ages. And in this situation there is only one profiteer: the multinational law firms.

I know, I am repeating myself, but a mutual-gains approach is possible, in every political and economic deal, so that both parties create and claim value. Therefore:

  • You need to be able to exchange positions in a safe, discrete and confidential environment
  • Neutral third parties should be involved, who can help make both parties understand the wishes, needs and interests behind the comments
  • Processes shall be installed, that help both parties overcome their mental barriers and to find creative solutions that meet the needs and that create value, for both
  • The public has to be involved, but not too early. Just after a preliminary agreement. But then the involvement has to be in a proactive and transparent manner.
  • Neutral negotiators need to be in charge on both sides. The quick tempered players should stay in the background as real decision makers.
  • Negotiation teams have to be set up carefully.
  • Legal support should be sought at the very end, only once there is an agreement that needs to be legally checked.
ISMAN & Partner
ISMAN & Partner ist eine Unternehmensberatung, die nationale und internationale Konzerne, mittelständische Betriebe und Start-ups, Organisationen und Institutionen bei komplexen Verhandlungs- und Konfliktlösungsprozessen begleitet. 2015 von Calin-Mihai Isman gegründet, unterstützen die Experten für Negotiation & Mediation Manager und Mitarbeiter aus den Bereichen Sales, Einkauf, M&A, Contracting, HR oder IT.


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