American Negotiating Style: Learning from Diplomacy

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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Choosing, Using, and Being a Facilitator

“In control but not the judge.” This is how one facilitator described his role in a restorative justice meeting (Borton, 2013). This description is a classic statement about the role of a facilitator.

In Borton’s study, facilitators agreed on the mechanics of meeting management, including the importance of making the meeting happen, preparing the parties, and establishing meeting guidelines. “Making meetings happen required working out schedules and other logistical details. It also sometimes meant persuading parties to participate by being persistent and talking (with the parties) who were on the fence” (Page 201). Preparing the parties involved asking questions, hearing the stories of the parties, and explaining how the meeting would work. Facilitators used their pre-meeting interactions with the parties to gauge the kind of meeting that would be effective and work out–with the parties–the “little nitty gritty” issues that could make the meeting go more smoothly.

In moderating the meetings themselves, facilitators had to balance two factors: First was the need to develop relationships–through being self-aware, open, and empathetic–so that they could direct communication among the parties without determining the outcomes. Second was the the importance of understanding the needs of each party and making sure the parties were prepared to discuss those needs. Both of these factors are important in helping the parties reach agreements and establishing relationships for future interactions.

Facilitators help the parties reach agreement, but lets reflect on the word “control” that was used by one of the respondents in Borton’s study. Of course, a facilitator cannot control the behaviors of the parties. What the facilitator can do is ensure that the process guidelines and norms are understood and followed by the parties. The facilitator can also help the parties keep on track, especially if a good understanding of the parties’ needs has been developed. The parties make the decisions but the facilitator manages the process.

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The Power of Collaboration

We often hear about the power of collaboration. It is good to find examples. One example appeared in a recent issue of Public Administration Review. The short article by David Wang is entitled “A Simple Lesson about the Power of Collaboration.” He describes a collaboration among farm workers, growers, and buyers. The lessons:

1. Have a vision for how the collaboration could work (How would this collaboration look if it were productive?),

2. Stick with that vision over the long-run (You may have to make adjustments along the way but try to make your vision a reality),

3. Receive some outside support (Identify and nurture relationships with your allies),

4. Build trusting relationships (Trustworthiness).

You can find the article on page 444 of Volume 74, Issue 4.

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Choosing the Right Representative

I have been reading an interesting history of a slice of diplomacy from the Second World War. President Roosevelt used personal representatives–often informally–to help him understand and coordinate with our allies. This led me to thinking about choosing the right representatives as lead negotiators for an organization. 

As Michael Fullilove tells it in his book Rendezvous with Destiny, Roosevelt sent five men as his personal representatives: Sumner Welles, Bill Donovan, Harry Hopkins, Wendell Willkie, and Averell Harriman. These were all people the President knew, but they were not all his friends. One–Willkie–had run against him for President in 1940. They each performed well and provided great service to the United States. 

Was Roosevelt lucky or was he good at choosing these representatives? Probably both. Here are some of the traits shared by the five. First, they were loyal to the President even when they did not fully agree with his policies. Second, they were deeply knowledgeable about American policy and politics. Third, they were hard-working and energetic. Fourth, they each could skillfully build and maintain relationships. 

These are traits we would like to see in those who represent us in negotiations. We have written about other important attributes of a good negotiator (click here to download).

Loyalty: Effective representatives are those who understand the mission and are committed to pursuing it. If they disagree they should be able to tell us and we should be willing to listen.

Deep Knowledge: Representatives should understand the technical details as well as the negotiation or regulatory process.

Hard Work and Energy: Representatives who are able and willing to put in the time and personal resources necessary to perform the task at hand are most likely to be successful.

Relationships: Successful representatives go beyond merely presenting our side of the argument. They listen to the other side, build trust, and empathize. 

Click here to read some other skills.


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Keys to Negotiation 13: Relationships, Trustworthiness, and Personal Bonds

We often say of negotiation that it is important to establish personal connections. Sometimes this is interpreted to mean that we should get to know the other stakeholders, maybe through social interactions. Social interactions are certainly important, but recent research suggests that one vital key to successful negotiation is the foundation of personal bonds. This implies more than meeting and greeting.

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Threats in Negotiation

Often, when we interview parties in a dispute, we find that they have focused on the threats posed by their adversaries. In these situations, it is important to step back and examine the threats as objectively as possible.

A recent article published in The Duck of Minerva gives a good example of using objective analysis to examine threats. Although the example given is threats that would need to be countered by an independent Scotland, the article is worth a read.

The authors suggest three themes that we might consider in an objective threat analysis:

  1. Frames: As we examine the arguments being used  to describe the threats we face, it is important to think about alternative frames. How could this conflict (or potential conflict) be seen from a different angle? Why has the conflict been framed in the way that it has? Have we selected the right frame to guide our planning?
  2. Addiction to Fear: It is always advisable to understand whether or not we have succumbed to the temptation to focus on our fears. If the authors are correct, humans are quick to think about what makes them afraid. Those who are planning a negotiation should be encouraged to also think about opportunities.
  3. Threat Categories: The authors use three categories to examine the question of potential threats. These might be expressed as Structural, Situational, and Complications.

Structural threats arise from the structure of our environment. These “institutional” factors can include the rules under which we operate, organizational policies, or supervisory span of control. Situational threats might include our adversaries’ incentives to cause conflict. Shared incentives to resolve conflicts could also be fruitful lines for examination. Complications might include such considerations as the effects of our alliances.

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Seeing the Big Picture: Strategy

Seeing the big picture in the midst of battle, or a rancorous negotiation, is difficult but important. A brief article on the website American Diplomacy traces the strategic consequences of three battles (Waterloo, The Somme, and Omaha Beach) to show how those battles and the geopolitical forces they unleashed shaped world politics. The article also highlights how difficult it is in the middle and immediate aftermath of battle to comprehend the true meaning of the event.

Seeing the big picture in these situations is vitally important. Designing a strategy to fit the new or changing conditions is a hallmark of success. In posts on this webpage we have often underscored the importance of adequate preparation for a negotiation. One part of that preparation that we have not much discussed is anticipating what the aftermath of the bargaining will mean for all the involved parties. Although hard to do, thinking about the business or governing environment that will follow the negotiation will be a guide to conducting the negotiation itself.

Another planning activity associated with negotiation preparation is what might be called “after action analysis” or debriefing the negotiation. After the negotiation is completed it is useful to convene those in your organization who have been involved to discuss what happened, what could have been done better, and where you stand now that the bargaining is finished. For multi-party, multi-dimensional negotiations that span long periods of time the after action analysis might be a rigorous and formal study. Other after action analyses can be accomplished by bringing together your organization’s folks around the conference room table. This kind of informal conversation can often benefit from the services of a mediator to keep participants on track.

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Doing the Impossible: Changing the Organization

“Only when certain political and organizational preconditions are met” can substantial improvements be made in big organizations. At least that is the conclusion suggested by a recent article in Public Administration Review. The authors suggest six preconditions (pg. 238):

  1. Support from a powerful political source,
  2. Recognition by the public & media that current conditions are unacceptable,
  3. A leader with unusual control over personnel policy,
  4. Substantial talent within or available to the organization,
  5. Useable & timely data systems, and
  6. A leader with an understandable vision for improvement.

These six factors are rare in big complex organizations. The authors offer four hypotheses explaining the obstacles building those preconditions.

  1. Members of an organization need time to become familiar with data-driven management. After a time, data-driven management can make large-scale, long-term reform possible (pg. 237).
  2. “Aggressive reformers will tend to appear in times and places where (current) outcomes are completely unacceptable and be dismissed or moderated once outcomes reach a merely acceptable level.” Or leaders will be “victims of their own success” if their political masters think they are “too big for their britches” (pg. 237).
  3. Organizational innovations…will diffuse more when leaders transfer to new places than through adoption by other leaders in the organization (pp. 237-38).
  4. Organizational reform occurs more readily when leaders control personnel policy (pg. 238).

Although not impossible, the authors conclude that reforming big organizations will be rare.

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Workplace Conflict: A Developing Story

When did you first start thinking about conflict resolution techniques for the workplace? If you say you first tuned into methods to resolve conflict sometime in the 1980s your are not far off according to a new study in the journal Conflict Resolution Quarterly (CRQ). Another way of saying this is to ask: Have you read Getting to Yes? That book by Fisher, Ury, and Patton was published in 1981. It was a game changer. Just about everyone has heard about or read that book!

Because that well-known book has been around for more than 30 years, you would think the concepts it contains would be almost common knowledge for today’s decision makers, managers, and entrepreneurs. However, a recent study in CRQ illustrates how much more work needs to be done to educate leaders and employees about conflict management. Authors Katz and Flynn asked leaders and employees in Broward County, Florida about their views of workplace conflict. The authors identify three main factors influencing conflict in the workplace: Power, organization demands, and worth. Power means the capability and means to accomplish tasks; organization demands refers to differing expectations about duties, quality, and speed; and worth means self esteem and other emotional needs.

Click here to view our post on Workplace Conflict.

In their study of Broward County, the authors found that leaders and employees had:

  1.  Little awareness of how conflicts affect their organization,
  2. Different definitions of conflicts,
  3. Different views on the effectiveness of existing systems,
  4. Little awareness of the techniques or approaches available to reduce workplace conflict.

The authors conclude by recommending “… any conflict management model in today’s society must be flexible, adaptable to … situations and cultures and leadership styles, be practical and cost-effective, and be easily communicated to employees in the organization” (pg. 407).

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The Efficacy of Alternative Dispute Resolution

The efficacy of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when compared with more formal processes has been a question much discussed in the literature of conflict resolution. A recent study, published in Public Administration Review suggests that ADR can be fairly effective.

The authors studied ADR and formal dispute resolution cases in the context of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint process for federal agencies. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal for businesses or government agencies to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.

Beginning in January 2000, the EEOC required all federal agencies to make ADR available to employees. Employees could choose to use traditional procedures for their complaints. This established something of a natural experiment in which the efficacy of the two procedures could be compared.

The results are suggestive: During the informal stage of the process ADR “appears to be highly effective in terms of processing time, resolving cases well under the 90 day time limit and likely contributing to the overall drop in processing time…” (pg. 56). By the end of the test period ADR cases and traditional EEOC cases were nearing the same range in terms of monetary awards, but ADR cases still typically received less monetary relief. However, the resolution rate for ADR cases was about 10% higher than for the traditional process cases.

During the formal stage of the EEOC process, the number of complaints declined, the ADR cases had faster resolution times, the resolution rate was higher, and monetary compensation was generally higher for ADR cases. A caveat is that in the formal stage there were very few ADR cases.

Overall, the authors conclude that both agencies and employees seem to have accepted ADR as an effective alternative for resolving complaints.

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