Lessons leaders can learn from (bad) political negotiations

Neil Clothier
Refrain from suggesting your “button is bigger” (Source: Getty)

Can you really negotiate with someone that’s not willing to negotiate?

The answer is yes. But, if business leaders are looking for an example of how to negotiate in a tricky situation, they should categorically avoid taking the Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un approach.

From tittle tattle and irritating behaviours, to aggressive language and accusations, the spat between North Korea and the US is a masterclass in how not to negotiate.

Read more: Trump’s migration slur displays disturbing economic ineptitude

Business leaders frequently have to negotiate in delicate situations – be it navigating office politics to closing a big deal with a high-value customer.

Regardless of the context, however, the basic principles of negotiating remain the same, and understanding what not to do can sometimes be more important than knowing what to do.

The first no-go in any negotiation is to use irritating behaviours. And, by this we mean everything from self-praising declarations, such as using the words “fair” and “reasonable”, to being overly outlandish or assertive.

This behaviour creates a strained environment that leads to a defensive opponent.

To negotiate well you need to form a give-and-take culture, where the outcome feels mutually beneficial.

Avoid deliberately antagonising your opponent too. And yes, perhaps unsurprisingly to you and I, that means refraining from suggesting your “button is bigger”, in true Trump style.

In a strained situation it’s also easy to respond quickly and without full consideration, which can be dangerous.

On the political stage, we see Trump jumping to Twitter to demonstrate his displeasure with little apparent hesitation – meaning he shows his cards early.

However, for smart negotiators, it’s important to remain considered and disciplined at all times.

Prepare properly and map out your negotiations – spend time considering how you will control the climate, shift the power in your favour, and what you ultimately want to achieve from the meeting.

However, this doesn’t mean that you need to remain completely rigid. Flexibility is also key.

To successfully negotiate, you must also have a firm understanding of what your opponent wants – be prepared to listen. This is another major weakness in the “discussions” between the US and North Korea.

Neither party is prepared to acknowledge the other’s frustrations, leading to deadlock.

Take time to sit back and listen. Digest the information you’re receiving properly, and understand the other party’s position. This will provide opportunity to explore their underlying objectives.

You can also use this to build incisive questions that create doubt – doubt leads to movement, and movement is what you’re trying to create as a negotiator. When two difficult parties lock horns, these principles can help shift the stalemate.

Ultimately, when things get tough, resort back to common ground and restate the areas that you both agree on – be it the goals you both share, or the kind of deal you both want.

These tactics will help you avoid losing out on a deal on the basis that you’re negotiating with a difficult personality – something Trump could do well to remember.

Read more: Donald Trump is only the sixth-richest person speaking at Davos this year

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