June 20, 2019

Negotiations at the heart of the skill set of a diplomat

By Ron Ton, Director of Clingendael Academy

Who said negotiations in diplomacy is easy? Negotiating in bilateral relations, within international organisations, in trade and investment, with conflicting parties, lobby groups or NGO’s or at global international conferences, it all should be in the negotiation skills set of a diplomat. It’s not only the variety in the context which makes negotiations complex for diplomats. Also, changing policy concerns entered the diplomatic negotiation arena, in the field of sustainable development issues, refugee crises, cyber security or the digital agenda. At the same time the number of non-state actors trying to influence international negotiations has expanded dramatically: NGO’s, interest groups, citizens movements, private sector stakeholders, the media etc.

To me, negotiations can be best subscribed as the management of complexity. It starts with the complexity of finding an acceptable deal for two of more parties. Having an agenda of 20 issues with 10 parties or more  behind the table means that the number of exchanges in interests are huge. Delegations are often faced with the paradox of trying to maximalise their individual interest and at the same time know a deal can only me found collectively. The road to a good package deal in itself can be very bumpy: a complex agenda, poor negotiation behaviour, a hostile atmosphere, time pressures, emotions, misperceptions  or political concerns can block successful negotiations.

What are critical factors to be successful in negotiations?

It all begins with a thorough preparation and planning. Basically,  knowing what you want and to anticipate tactically on the position of the other party or parties. Vital interests and possible concessions needs to be well defined and supported by a constituency. In the end success starts at home, in the way you are provided with a strong mandate and with mutual understanding between you and your constituency.

Good negotiators make sure to have a strategic plan.Designing a strategy sheet can help to have a better grip on the negotiations by identifying a so-called PIN analysis on position, interest and needs of your delegation and your opponent(s), as well identifying your “Best alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA), opening strategy and tactics. A well-defined BATNA can give you situational power: if the outcome is better than your BATNA you could accept the offer; if not you have to consider re-negotiations or withdrawal of the negotiations.

In my view, analysing beforehand the interests and needs behind positions is of vital importance to be successful in negotiations. How often do parties just stick to their position and lack insights to understand the interests or needs motivating the position of a party? A position is open and publicly expressed to let other parties know how you would like solve a conflict or dispute. The interests expresses what you really want and are the arguments behind your position. Needs are hidden and generally non-negotiable and express why you want something. Needs refer to deeply rooted beliefs like identity, recognition or moral values or can refer to basic human needs like safety, subsistence or protection.

In negotiation it is also good to understand the concepts of distributive and integrative negotiations. Distributive negotiations are very competitive, one issue dominated bilateral negotiations, for example in territorial dispute or price negotiations. Parties tend to fight for their gain at the loss of the other, the so called win-lose negotiations. In integrative negotiations parties recognise collaboration and cooperation to get to a deal which makes both better off. There is a level of trust and multiple issues can be exchanged, for example in trade negotiations as we have seen lately in the EU-Japan trade deal.

Negotiators should know also to handle themselves in stressful situations. A basic rule to differentiate the person from the issue can provide assurance not taking attacks or emotions too personal. Negotiators are sitting behind the negotiation table as professionals representing a country or party and not as a private person. There is nothing wrong by showing emotions, after all we are all human beings. However, if emotions lead to irrational behaviour it can lead to take wrong decisions.

So, how to stay in control of the complexity of negotiations?

For this purpose I have designed a four dimension competence negotiation method. The dimensions arecontent, process, behaviour andprocedures. Each dimension is backed up by competences, qualifications to be a successful negotiator. If, for example, you get stuck in negotiations you always have to wonder is it because there is a lack of exploration on the interests (content) or did we forget to investin the relationship (process)? Or did we for example misunderstand the rules for decision making (procedures) or couldn’t we handle pressure (behaviour)? Perceiving negotiations as a four dimensions process can provide you with insights how to take negotiations forward. In my view, a successful negotiator is the one who can navigate best between the content, process, behaviour and procedures of negotiation.

Good luck in your next negotiations!




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