Lessons from Diplomacy: Learning the Discipline of Negotiation

What can we learn from the practice of diplomacy that will help us negotiate? Whether it is natural resources, workplace conflict, or local policy disputes there are some golden rules to help us.

The Public Diplomacy Council recently published an essay by retired diplomat Donald Bishop who gave six rules that I summarize:

1. Take it all in. Be disciplined to read both sides of the question. You might extend this rule to “read all sides” because in most of our negotiations are not simply two-sided. Be sure to read all the documents.

2. Audit your own partisanship. Test yourself to check whether your support for one side is getting in the way of the negotiation.

3. Practice non-partisanship with careful referents. The author uses the example of never referring to one of our Presidents by using only their last name, but always including the title. For example, it is always President Bush, never Bush. Similarly, when referring to testimony by an opposing scientist, we should say “Dr. Jones” or “Professor Smith.”

4. Avoid partisan non-verbals. The author advises, “When discussing events and issues, don’t wince, roll your eyes, or adopt a sarcastic tone.  Rely on words.”

5. Just the facts. A good negotiator knows the facts and sticks to them: “Command of the facts demonstrates your knowledge, reins in wild thinking, and gives confidence….”

6. Model the America we all want. Perhaps the author gives his best advice when he tells us: “We have all heard individuals with opposing views make the case for civility, for nonpartisanship, for respect, … for enduring values, for transparency, for the long view.  As the old hymn says, ‘let it begin with me.'”

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