March 23, 2019

Think Like a Lawyer, Act Like a Diplomat, or Vice Versa?

By Karel Frielink.

What do presidents, diplomats, housekeepers, attorneys, kids, CEOs and second-hand car dealers have in common? They all negotiate in order to get what they want.

Negotiating your way through life. It all starts when you are born. A baby’s negotiating power comes from his mouth; when used by adults it is described as the cry baby tactic. Before adulthood you negotiate with your parents about pocket-money, getting toys or a scooter. It is then that you realize that size and power do matter. You develop skills and tactics. You will need those skills (and tactics) not only in a work environment, but also in daily living.

Especially if negotiating is part of your profession, you must know how to negotiate successfully. Know your style and that of the others involved in the process: are (only) reasonable negotiators involved? Do they want to be the sole winner of the negotiations or are they seeking a solution to the problems of all parties involved? Are the negotiators competitive or working side-by-side? Does the relationship matter more than the stakes? Is the focus on interests, or on positions? What is it you want out of the negotiation? What is it the other party wants? What do they think you want? Determine your settlement range: the area between your best and worse-case scenario.

Preparation is a key element in achieving success. I refer to Michael P. Donaldson’s book The Power of Preparation: The Wish-Want-Walk Negotiating Method: what you wish ideally (your goal), what you consider right and therefore want (where you think the negotiation should end up) and under which outcome you will walk away form a deal because it is simply not worth it.

Negotiating is about communication, effective communication to be more precise. Without listening attentively, which for the avoidance of doubt means stop talking and stop planning your response, effective communication cannot exist. Listening isn’t easy. It too requires preparation as well as a sincere interest in the other party. In order to get what you want, you need to know where the other person is coming from.As Gary Noesner wrote in Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator: “Listening is the cheapest yet most powerful concession we can make.”

Diplomats and lawyers can learn from each other when it comes to being a smart and effective negotiator. Aernoud Bourdrez is a lawyer based in Amsterdam and a conflict negotiator. The approach of Bourdrez differs from traditional advocacy. Where traditional lawyers focus on the legal aspects of the conflict, Bourdrez puts emphasis on the patterns that characterize the conflict and ways to break through these patterns.

On preventing and resolving conflicts Bourdrez wrote the book Think Like a Lawyer, Don’t Act Like One. For this book he followed the famous course Program on Negotiation at Harvard and he read standard works like Getting to Yes, The Theory of Conflict and The Art of War. He also watched hours of Big Brother and Hell’s Kitchen and dozens of K-1 fights.

But according to Bourdrez, he learned the most from Dashcam movies on YouTube. Particularly those from Russia, where traffic can get raw. The dash mounted cameras beautifully record how conflicts arise, and how the one conflict drastically gets out of hand and the other one is smartly resolved.

Based on historical events, hilarious blunders, and examples from his own practice, Bourdrez explains the recurring patterns you see in conflicts and how you can break through. In his book he offers 75 successful strategies for avoiding or solving conflicts. Even a career diplomat could learn a thing or two from a lawyer. And vice versa of course!

Karel Frielink, Dion Gumbs.

About author:

Karel Frielink is the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba; Dean of the Consular Corps of Curaçao; Attorney in the Dutch Caribbean. (This contribution is written a titre personnel)

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