Over the course of my EU career I have negotiated many things, from trade quotas to international treaties. Here are a few comments and observations on preparations for Brexit negotiations.
- Goodwill forms an essential part of one’s negotiating capital. Where one side feels goodwill towards the other, that party is more likely to accept trade-offs for the sake of an agreement which helps his partner keep his stakeholders happy. In a successful negotiation, both sides come away feeling happy with the outcome.
- A confrontational, zero-sum situation, where winning is impossible without the other side losing, is less likely to lead to a good outcome for either side. You negotiate better with partners, not with opponents.
- The best outcomes are achieved where both sides understand the other’s motivations and objectives, and have some empathy. “Help us help you” should be the motto of both sides in a negotiation. Try to put emotions to one side and be realistic about the other side’s objectives and motivation. To do that, you must get out of your echo chamber.
- Avoid doing anything which will erode goodwill. For example, if your negotiating partner is most comfortable working in his own language, ask yourself “how can we help him work in his own language without putting ourselves in a weaker position?” Don’t run to the newspapers declaring that you will force him to work in your language rather than his – and especially don’t do that where you can’t deliver on that threat.
- Negotiators always have to keep an eye ahead and an eye behind: watch and understand your negotiating partner and watch and understand your own stakeholders. Be careful to get the balance right. Don’t be so focused on managing your own stakeholders that you take your eye off the people with whom you will actually be negotiating.
- Talking down your negotiating partner, adopting confrontational language, making demonstrably unrealistic or false assertions about your negotiating strengths, in order to build support among your stakeholders, is a very risky strategy. Your negotiating partner is watching, and will adapt his negotiating strategy and tactics accordingly.
- If you do decide to go down the route of confrontation, do so from a position of strength. Bullying isn’t nice but it can be a valid strategy when you face intransigence. But only if you genuinely hold the right cards. The UK’s problem is (a) it does not hold a strong hand, (b) it is currently behaving in an intransigent way itself, (c) it therefore risks being the one who ends up being bullied.
- Know your negotiating partner. If your partner is a Brussels institution with decades of experience negotiating complex agreements with multiple partners and simultaneously managing multiple stakeholders, confrontation probably isn’t going to be the best strategy. And don’t stick your head in the sand. You have to work with those negotiators – don’t invest all your effort in lobbying Berlin and Paris when Brussels is where you should be focusing most of your attention.
(Disclaimer: I am not involved on either side of this negotiation except as an interested observer.)