What Can Today’s Negotiators Learn From Britain’s Tony Blair?

Tony Blair is a master negotiator
Tony Blair is a master negotiator
Image Credit: Oklahoma State University

As negotiators we’d all like to find ways to become better at this critical skill. One way to make this happen is to find people that we know do it well and then ask them questions – how did they become so good. When they negotiate, what do negotiation styles and negotiating techniques do they use in order to get the deal that they are looking for? One such person is Tony Blair, the former prime minster of Great Britain. Tony is most famous for the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Let’s take a look at Tony’s suggestions for how we can make our next negotiation be successful.

Come To An Agreement On A Common Framework

Often when a negotiation starts, the two sides are miles apart in terms of reaching an agreement. They may be fundamentally deadlocked on an issue. As a negotiator, what this means is that our task is to get both sides to agree on a framework for the discussions based on agreed-upon principles. One way to go about doing this is to get everyone to agree to a “principle of consent” that can be used to start things off. The can offer “a valid design concept” that all the parties can accept as a foundation for the difficult talks that will follow. This type of common framework not only serves to guide parties in conflict but also effectively “traps” them into behaving consistently.

Make Sure You Grip The Main Conflict Relentlessly

During a negotiation, a great number of additional issues can show up. As a negotiator, it is your job to maintain a viselike grip on the implementation of the many issues under dispute. A resolution must be gripped and focused on “Continually. Inexhaustibly. Relentlessly.”

Always Attend To Minor Details

When we are engaged in a negotiation, it can be all too easy for us to complain about our minor losses while overlooking our larger gains. We need to not make such value judgments. Because seemingly petty issues typically are symbols of larger, critical issues, they deserve our full attention. The process of exchanging small concessions brings parties closer to an agreement but can leave them in a state of more or less permanent complaint. Inevitably, each side comes to believe it has moved the most. Third parties face the task of helping negotiators see the forest instead of the trees.

Take The Time To Be Creative

When we are engaged in a negotiation, the path to a deal may at times not appear clear to us. In order to find our way to the end, ingenuity is often needed “in abundant supply” to resolve tense conflicts. An example of this is adding novel ideas and issues to the table which can be a powerful form of creativity.

When Needed, Rely On Third Parties

Often times the people who are involved in a negotiation can find themselves trapped. Left on their own, negotiators in conflict are unlikely to resolve their differences. Outside parties have the ability to not only bring creativity to the negotiation but also help negotiators identify broader issues and turning points they might otherwise overlook. Being one step removed from the conflict, third parties are often best equipped to pinpoint such turning points and keep the process moving forward.

Understand That Resolution Is Not An End, It’s A Journey

Often it can all too easy to view reaching a deal with the other side as a conclusion of a negotiation. However, because both sides in a lingering dispute have difficulty seeing each other’s pain, conflict resolution is best viewed as a journey rather than an event. As a result, negotiators may need to make sure to include enough time for parties to air their grievances about the past.

Always Prepare For A Disruption

Negotiators don’t control the world in which they live. We need to understand that things that may affect our negotiations can happen at any time. We need to realize that even “perfectly respectable and democratic elements” are likely to accuse their parties of selling out when they reach an agreement. Negotiators need to redouble their efforts when hard-liners attempt to sabotage a negotiation.

When Possible, Capitalize On Leadership

Negotiators need to understand that in order to come to an agreement as a part of a negotiation, the leaders of both sides may need to step in. Over the course of a long conflict, both sides inevitably develop partisan ideologies that color their view of everything that follows. Holding on to firmly established positions during negotiations may be the easiest path to follow. But because the negotiation process requires talking risks, leaders must let go of their established ideologies. When strong leaders on all sides are willing to roll up their sleeves and cooperate, your chances of reaching agreement multiply exponentially.

Make Sure That You Seize On External Change

Although we may not control the world that we live in, if something happens externally to our negotiations that we feel can help us to reach our goals, then we need to seize on to them. If a conflict is deeply entrenched, negotiators can seize on powerful external forces to shake up the status quo. Negotiators who are looking for an end to a protracted conflict would be wise to make sure to capitalize on such external shifts.

Remember To Never Give Up

Being committed to reaching deal is a key part of being a negotiator. Beyond “gripping” the conflict, negotiators must refuse to accept defeat. If a problem cannot be solved in the present then we need to manage it until it can be solved.

What All Of This Means For You

No, our next principled negotiation may not be as complex as the negotiations with Northern Ireland were. Hopefully we also won’t be dealing with people who have such entrenched hostility towards each other. However, Tony Blair has been there and he was successful. The negotiating tips that he can pass on to us just make good sense. We need to review what he has told us and the next time that we get involved in a negotiation, let’s see if we can put them to use.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If you are conducting a negotiation and an external disruption occurs, what do you think that you should do?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every negotiator would like to have some magic in their lives. We’d all like to be able to wave our hands and have a negotiation go our way. We’d like to have spells that we could recite that would make the other side bend to our will. The bad news is that such magic does not seem to exist. However, there is something a bit strange about the number three. Everything good comes in threes, they say. For negotiators, sequences of three can be rewarding as well.