Recently Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, appeared to taunt the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, by indicating that the “Make me an offer” game being played by the UK showed a weak position.
It is interesting that the “Make me an offer” tactic was highlighted as it is the first tactic I have to cover on the first morning of the first day of my courses. Why? well because it is the most common tactic used by participants – from MBA students to highly experienced Directors of global corporates. But whilst it is not always weak, it is used by many to hide a number of possibilities.
- No Preparation – If you do not know what you want it makes it impossible to make the first move, so the initiative is handed to the other side of the table from the start. Setting up an outcome based on what the other side will let you have rather than what you want.
- Gambling Instinct – If I tell you what I want I limit what might be possible to win is the belief. The problem is that when I ask my students how often they get more than they planned to achieve, the weakness of the ploy is highlighted. Very very few gain more than they expect – and many curse themselves for handing over the initiative.The only market I work in regularly is the Venture Capital market, where an investor might play this game to find out just how much the owner of a business knows about the true value of his / her business. So many people in business do not know the real value of their business and how it can be used.
- Hagglers – If the negotiation is going to be one dimensional – just about price for example – hagglers try to get the other party to go first and then of course gain an advantage by forcing them to make the first move from this opening position. The scale of the first move means that the party going second can always make smaller steps and control where the deal will be done.
- Slow Surrender – very similar to haggling but without any understanding of how haggling really works. This slow surrender approach means that the parties move towards each other by making excuses, splitting differences, meeting half way. This is not negotiating and neither party gets a good deal if they are having to surrender.
It would appear from some views that Theresa May is believed to have “persuaded” the EU negotiators to allow the UK to move forward to the second phase in order that the process of agreeing a new trade relationship can begin. I would think that this is far from the reality. However it highlights the different perceptions of Politicians, Journalists and Professional Negotiators.
It is absolutely clear from where I am sitting that the EU team led by Michel Barnier has a clear control of the process at this point in time. He and his team have met two key objectives so far – 1. Keeping the 27 member countries calm and together by using the power of the proposal. 2. Discovering through this control as much as possible about the state of readiness, clarity, skill level and negotiating ability of the UK team.
The EU have had to use fine judgement in how far to push / frustrate the UK Government team and the British Parliament. There remains quite a sizeable group across the EU and within Brussels who believe that there may still be a chance of a change in heart by the UK, which is why every opportunity is used to question how well the consequences have been thought through and to remind the UK that they already have a deep and special relationship.
The desired objective of keeping the door open for the UK to remain in the EU is a fine judgement while protecting the interests of the 27 who are eyeing up opportunities. There will be a one off opportunity to grab business and operations currently based in the UK while the UK is working to assumption rather than fact.
However, it is clear that the present UK leadership have been desperate to move forward to discuss / negotiate a trade deal. So desperate as to be easily moved to concession. They have broken one of the fundamental lessons – Tell people what you want BUT NOT how badly you want it (need it)! The desperation made it easy for Barnier to string out the game, build up the time pressure and have the UK dance to the EU’s agenda.
The first phase has provided the EU team with considerable information about the UK’s style and understanding of the process. It would appear that the UK team are reactive, allowing others to dictate agenda, objective and process. There is confusion between objective and strategy. The UK has a mandate from the voting population to leave the EU – the answer to a question that no true leader would have asked. There was no instruction to negotiate a new trade deal prior to leaving; in fact getting bogged down, and putting the UK’s credibility at risk is very dangerous going forward.It exposes a current lack of genuine leaders coming forward and a weakness in the UK’s system of democracy and unity as a kingdom.
The decision by the EU and Ireland to allow for a recommendation to the 27 that sufficient progress had been made with regard to the three agenda items set as pre-condition bargaining items is interesting. If this decision had not been made it might have sunk Theresa May and led to possible changes at the top of the UK government that would not be helpful (to the EU). It is an important objective to keep the Prime Minister in place and David Davies leading the negotiations now that Michel Barnier has the measure of the UK team and knows their pressure points.
So whilst the politics may say that Mrs May has lived to fight another day and keep a job that possibly no-one wants at the moment; it is the EU that has everything under control and protected by nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Finally, there is the promise to secure the best deal for the UK. The “best deal” will be the worst deal that the 27 EU members can accept / live with. Given the performance during the first phase the UK already has lost the opportunity for the very best deal and “best” is declining all the time that the UK remains in reactive mode.
So, who around you has what it takes? Have you looked after them during the good times so that they will stay with you and be ready to cope with the tough ones ahead? Who are the ones with real talent who need to be better equipped to succeed and prepared to take on more responsibility? Who is ready to take on your challenges?
Now is the time to “cut the crap” and focus on development that really makes a difference and will give a real return; training and coaching that will draw out the talent, build the confidence, excite, energise and motivate.
Profit from adversity – be courageous – use the time – build the team.
Setting a conciliatory tone can be dangerous if not thought through carefully. It could signal weakness, over keenness to close a deal or just indicate a lack of preparation or experience. Trying to be more flexible without setting clear conditionality on that flexibility let’s the other side know that their strategy is working.
Perception here is key. The EU has clear prime objectives. The desired position of the member states, MEPs and the Commission in Brussels is that the UK does not leave the Union, which means that things will be dragged out. Tactics to frustrate, deadlock and block will be common. Arguments will be critical of the UK’s position and questions will constantly probe the politicians’ commitment to go through to a deal. There will be insinuations that people do not know what they are doing. Proposals might be received as helpful but never enough; the bottom line is that the leaving does not go easily or profitably for Britain so as to discourage others from following. These objectives will not change while the U.K. shows a poor hand and indicates a lack of strong commitment to the prime objective (Brexit).
The rebuilding of relationships will come after the separation has been completed and probably not before.
Situations in which to be careful:
The skillful negotiator is collecting information all the time. One never knows when it will be useful or for which deal but it is very valuable. Collecting this intelligence comes from many sources: Networking events, corporate entertainment, formal dinners, speeches, debates, news interviews, listening while waiting in receptions, conference breakouts, hotels, airport lounges, rail journeys and so on. From many sources one is able to put together a clearer picture regarding goals and priorities for both (all) sides. This is particularly useful in understanding conflicts and the limits beyond which the sides are not prepared to go.
I was sitting in the reception of a conference centre watching and listening a while back. It was interesting to hear the Conference Manager say to a potential customer: “We try to get £150 per day for that particular room”. Oh dear.
It is common to see groups of business people meeting over coffee as they get ready for some meet or other. Quite often one hears them agree the lazy strategy for their meeting: “we’ll listen to what they say and take it from there.” Why wait to be told what they will give you when you can make your own proactive proposition.
It is worth auditing where and how you collect in your negotiating information. If you limit this activity to formal set piece meetings you are limiting your options. Rethink all the opportunities and increase your knowledge and success.
Structuring Expectations: Part One
The pre-negotiation phase: The negotiation has begun already!
Many people make the mistake of thinking that in the period running up to the formal start of a negotiation the parties are not negotiating. They could not be more wrong. The reality is that once one becomes aware that someone wants something, then the opportunity to make a deal means that the negotiation is off and running. From the moment this reality begins expectations are being structured. Every action, statement, move, meeting, event sends out messages as to the aspirations of the parties; how they intend to behave towards each other and indications as to the priorities they are working to. What they want and (often more importantly) what they want to avoid.
The unguarded are giving information away all the time and not realising it. Discipline and coordination in this phase are all important.
If the negotiating landscape has a considerable number of interested parties trying to influence objectives and strategy, discipline can become very problematic. An experienced negotiator can read much from watching from the other side. It provides useful information about how well prepared the other side is, what problems they are having within their team, who the key influencers may be, where the real power is and who the key decision maker is.
In this phase the internal conversations within one side maybe the real negotiation. It can be very difficult to get the clarity of objectives and priorities when there are too many fingers in the pie. But it gives away a lack of togetherness, conflicting objectives and strategies and possible lack of real negotiating knowledge and ability.
Sharpen up your skills at http://www.sharppractices.co.uk/negotiating_sharppractices.htm.
When the Outcome is not what was wanted or expected, Negotiators have only themselves to Blame.
When you are on the receiving end of a bad, unreasonable proposal or a deal that
does not address what you want, it is your fault. And what’s more, there is no
point complaining about it or blaming the other side. It’s what you have done or
not done, said or not said, that is the problem. You are responsible for the part
you control and influence. If the other side fails to understand, take note or realise
what is possible do not blame them for your failure. It is one of the most significant lessons to be learnt. A lesson we learn the hard way, especially in this day and age when taking full responsibility for one’s own actions is becoming increasingly rare.
The fashion would seem to be blame anyone but yourself. Trying to “get away with it” and not be “found out” is all too common. When things start to wrong – run. No – admit the mistake and learn. Failure to learn the lesson means that you keep repeating the mistake, the bad habit and try to get away with it.
Why does this happen? Because you allow it to. You do not put in the hard graft to prepare, research, listen, question, understand. It is your fault. You have failed to be diligent and use the processes with appropriate knowledge or discipline.
You have not taken responsibility.
In Preparation: did you define objectives with the clarity that left you (or anyone else) in no doubt what you wanted? If not why not? Did you ask yourself if you
should communicate what you wanted? Oh no, because you like to gamble. Oh no, because you did not know what you wanted! Oh no, because you thought you’d wait until you found out where the other side was coming from (and they
In Dialogue: did you prepare the right questions to find out what they wanted and
how badly? Did you pick up the signals from what was said? Did you plan how to
When planning what to tell the other side did you know what information to give
and what to keep to yourself? Did you have the courage to go first and tell them
what you wanted and what they had to do if they wanted a deal? Worse – did you
fail to make a proposal and so cede the initiative to them?
Negotiating is a life skill. In life you get what you deserve. In negotiating you get
the deal that you deserve.
Remember it is always your fault.
Articles are mounting up in the world’s press highlighting the dilemmas facing the British voters, the political parties and the EU member states.
Conflicts and Contradictions:
If the state of the NHS will be threatened by Brexit – why put it in jeopardy by having the Referendum? The Referendum was tactical in dealing with UKIP and the Tory Euro Sceptics; Strategic in attempting to negotiate reform with the other EU states, but did not meet the critical objectives of the main manifesto priorities – Security of the nation, maintaining The United Kingdom, protecting the NHS, maintaining economic growth.
Proper setting of objectives – clarity of priorities – analysis of foreseeable consequences of the alternative strategic choices and tactical plays (Leadership!) would have identified all of the current risks before the last General Election.
The ability to negotiate is far more important than spin.
Whether the peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland decide to remain or leave the E.U. there will be negotiations inside and outside the Kingdom involving organisations great and small. But to negotiate with strength, control and authority there will need to be a much clearer set of objectives than have currently been defined and this will require a significant quality of leadership. After all, everyone I meet, who voted in the previous referendum on the Common Market, had no intention of it becoming what it is today; the responsibility for this outcome lies with the politicians (in government and opposition) who let it happen AND the failure of our democratic system to control them and keep them to the outcome for which we had voted.
To date, the campaigns for In and Out have been chaotic and negative and for many of us achieved one significant result – that the current crop of politicians and influencers can not be trusted to handle the consequences of any result the referendum might bring.
When coaching Directors and MBA students I find a common problem when analysing their negotiations. It is the inordinate amount of time spent on negative argumentative behaviour, when negotiations is about the possible. The more time wasted in arguing about what is not possible, probable, permissible or needed (what we do not want ), the less time there is for the possible and predictable way ahead (what we want that is possible). The negative, fear tactics are more in line with PPI selling than the task of shedding more light on the critical issues that have to be weighed up by the intelligent electorate who will be making the decision.
It is the confusion between strategy and objective that highlights the leadership problem. The Referendum hustings are beset with politicians looking for media opportunities to “sell” themselves to their parties, constituencies, and funders in the hope they may get further up their particular hierarchy. They use the present opportunity as a personal strategy to gain attention. However, the Referendum is only a strategy to provide a clue as to where we want to go. European Union Membership is only a strategy to help us achieve what we want as a Nation. What we want as a nation has yet to be defined, but at least we may be able to define what we do not want. Staying with the status quo may mean that we as a nation no longer want leadership, but prefer drift.
The parties with whom we will have to negotiate are all watching and listening. Our politicians may not realise it, but they are already in the early stages of the post referendum negotiations, and structuring expectations in a way that may not be helpful to us, but helpful to those with whom we will have to deal.
We need to toughen up.