Negotiating Lessons from Brexit

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
told you).

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
structure expectations?

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.


EU Referendum – We are prisoners of an ill thought out dilemma.

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.

WTO chief says post-Brexit trade talks must start from scratch – Guardian

Britain’s debate over Europe has been disappointing – Chicago Tribune

No 10 mulls last-ditch attempt to revisit free movement negotiations – Guardian

EU referendum: Osborne warns of Brexit budget cuts – BBC

Praying it will work? Chancellor plotting ‘punishment’ Budget with THREAT ‘to add 2p to income tax’ and increase death duty, booze and fuel costs. – Daily Mail

Conservative Party Manifesto – 2015

The ability to negotiate is far more important than spin.

The Post Referendum Negotiations have Started Already. Where is the Leadership?

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.

Saying you are negotiating may not be negotiating!

Setting the prime objective of a negotiation as just “closing a deal (any deal)” is not negotiating. However many may say that they are negotiating to get the best deal. It is not. It is giving in to the other side before you start. It puts all the control in the hands of the other party and you get what others are prepared to give you / let you have, and you get what you deserve.

Being seen to negotiate by  going through the motions of negotiating – meetings, discussions, arguments,  – may just be grandstanding for the audience. Trying to make it look tough and difficult to get an agreement are old games which have been played out many times over  hundreds of years which should not fool anyone these days. However, these little dramas are still attempted by the inexperienced, less skilled and under-prepared performers.

Often the other side will go along with this game. Why? Well because they may have to protect the relationship between the parties by playing along so as to humour them and keep them from embarrassing themselves. Protecting the other side’s “face” is often important – especially in the world of politics and international affairs.

Anyone can say “yes” just to get a deal, but it will be a deal on the other party’s terms.

Negotiating for Europe #5 – Discipline at the Close

Beware Last Minute Nibbles.

During the end game, there were some public declarations that a deal was close and that there were just a few minor details to sort out. I suspect that these declarations of being nearly there were made more out of habit and in hope than in all seriousness. It is common for many negotiators and hagglers to try to push for concessions in the end game by bringing up small demands whilst dangling the prospect of a deal. The hope is that the incentive of reaching the deal, especially after long and protracted sessions, may be so inviting that unconditional  concessions will be easy to secure. Most often it is Buyers who use this successfully when dealing with Sellers who just want to secure a deal. Trades Union negotiators use it when they know a Management team is under pressure to get the deal and get back to work.

The tactic may have worked in previous rounds of these Greek Debt negotiations, but this time, after all that has passed, this was not going to happen. As Trust has been lost, it has been important to make sure that all the required conditionality was in place and was going to be “honoured” if an agreement was to be reached and to work.

The German position, as reported by Paul Carrel of Reuters, was made clear by Ralph Brinkhaus, deputy parliamentary floor leader for Merkel’s conservatives:

“The more money is handed out in one stroke, the less leverage one has to stop payments if the reform process in Greece does not pan out as planned and as promised.

“A lot of trust has been lost in recent months,” he said, adding that aid should only be provided in return for Greece delivering reforms.

Read more:

The lesson in the end game is to make sure that all concessions are traded against the agreement of specific conditions. That if a last minute concession is being sought it is traded on agreeing the deal and bringing it to a close. The concession being traded should be small and conditional that the deal is now done. And if trust is a problem, it should be agreed on the basis of everything being clearly understood and how it will all be implemented and what the penalties will be incurred for failing to honour the accord.

Negotiating in Europe #4 – Greece, Britain et al.

When Negotiating You Get What You Deserve.

    1. If you are at the receiving end of an unrealistic proposal and wondering to yourself: “How on earth could anyone expect us to consider that?”, ask yourself: “What have I done / failed to do /  that allows the other side to make that proposal?”.Why does this happen? Well there may be many reasons, but most common are that you have most likely failed to make it clear earlier what was possible and what was not – what is negotiable and what is not – what would be the consequences of unrealistic positions – what range of sanctions were available – what would be possible.

      After all, negotiating is the art of the possible! (Even though so many spend all their time arguing about what is impossible).

    2. If you do not define what you want ahead of a negotiation you are preparing to receive what others will let you have. You are planning to be Reactive not Proactive – Passive rather than Active – Defensive as opposed to Assertive.

      Touring round the parties of a multilateral negotiation to find out what others think can easily fall into this trap. It then leads to your objectives being defined by what others will offer rather than what you want.

    3. If you make it obvious that you do not have any real threats, or intentions to carry out a threat (eg. the threat to walk away / leave.), then the other parties will take full advantage of the opportunity to reject your ideas, propose tougher terms and take the “high ground”.

If you go into the negotiation with just a list of demands, you give the others the opportunity to set a high price against each demand. If the other side are irritated, then the price can be very high; BUT you only have yourself to blame!

The Negotiating Gifts from Greece – 3# – Be Sharp but Beware Clever Clever

Experienced Negotiators Know how to use a Weak Position to Advantage

    1. If you are in a Lose / Win situation your options provide plenty of scope to be proactive by making proposals or pursue varied strategies. After all, you have nothing to lose. Proposals can be realistic or unrealistic depending on whether you wish to move forward or just buy time. Strategies can be outrageous in a multilateral negotiation with many parties, as the complexity  of the situation and the needs for a level of unity protects (and hampers) all.
    2. Following the old negotiator’s adage “one is always in a stronger position than one thinks”, and taking courage; being proactive and making a proposal can bring surprising results:
      1. It can steal the agenda,
      2. Give uncommitted parties something to work with,
      3. Force a response,
      4. Seize the high ground,
      5. Control the deadlock.
    3. Pursuing varied strategies and tactics can lock the parties in a dangerous and escalating competition in which each tries to prove their ideas are better (more clever) than everyone else’s. This is a modern day negotiating curse – being too clever in developing smart games, gambits and tactics – brings in high risk as strategy becomes more important than the original objective.
    4. Beware that being sharp is not confused with being clever, and being clever may be no better than being stupid.

The Negotiating Gifts from Greece – #2 – Kicking The Can Down The Road – Deadlocking


      1. Argue and keep arguing – whilst arguing you are not making concessions or even proposals. In fact you are not negotiating (attempting to secure an agreement). You keep the position in stasis by playing the argument game. Negotiations appear to be ongoing, but the reality is deadlock. This is used for many reasons – for example: to buy time – encourage concessions as the other parties surrender through frustration – allow deadlines to be overrun – appear to be fully engaged in the negotiation when not – grandstand to the audience (audience as in noise to listen to)

      2. Unrealistic Proposals – making proposals that one knows to be unacceptable are designed to create argument – deadlock. It allows one to push the onus to the other side and make them responsible for lack of progress. It is high risk, but often tried. If the other side sees it for what it is it is matched by an equally unrealistic response. There are elements of this behaviour operating between the Greeks and Germans as I write.

      3. Appeal to higher authority – referendum – seek the view of the electorate and use their answer to deadlock further.The danger is two can play at this game. Another matching game to deadlock the process or bring people to their senses.

      4. Making an agreement but then take it away for approval / ratification and then finding all sorts of problems with it. Kicks can down the road, but attempts to set up opportunities to amend the agreement. Lots of this going on.

These techniques are used often by parties who:

  • May not know what they want.

  • Do not know what is likely to happen if they go through with threats or agree to something they do not fully understand.

  • Have nothing to lose.

  • Know it costs less to deadlock than to negotiate / make concessions.

  • Find that by using frustration tactics they get rewarded – especially if some parties are keen to “get a deal”.

  • Want to appear to be negotiating by being at the meeting, but have no intention of allowing progress.

  • Think that winning the argument is negotiating – it is not.

    How to Deadlock the Negotiation –

Trust in Negotiations – Beware

Trust should not be confused with Making Assumptions.

In reading quite a few articles and blogs on the meat supply crisis over the past days, it is clear that many who should know better have been making a lot of assumptions about the performance of contracts and subcontracts. They appear to be trusting their systems because they seem to have been working safely and efficiently. Managers prefer not to go looking for trouble, especially when the numbers are looking good. And of course they are able to say that they have an audit system in place, and all sources are subject to regular checking. But all of this is based on assumption and not trust. This problem applies to retailers, banks, broadcasters, in fact just about all organisations.

All of us are guilty of making similar assumptions when buying. We assume our favourite suppliers are selling us safe food and we assume our favourite brands contain exactly what it says on the label. But now we know different.

Assumptions are dangerous. Making decisions based on assumptions is taking unnecessary and sometimes very high risks. Most weeks I will observe and analyse many negotiations. On most occasions I witness negotiators assuming their counter party to be making honest and truthful statements, even when they themselves are lying through their teeth! Strange but common behaviour.

Quite often assumptions are not challenged because the individuals do not know how to. They are not able to phrase questions properly; they are uncomfortable challenging statements and are fearful to upset the other side and so “lose” the deal; they know something is not quite right but not sure what, so they let it go; once the deal has been done it is for others to implement – if it goes wrong, or does not work out they can avoid the blame and pass it on down the line.


  • Trust is built up over time between parties. It becomes established as agreements are honoured exactly as agreed – not just once, but every time.
  • Trust is a major part of a relationship, a corner stone.
  • Trust allows each side to “know” how the other party will act, not just an expectation but a promise that will be fulfilled.
  • One can expect (and be right) that secrets and confidences will be kept. The parties know if the trust is ever broken it can never be repaired.
  • Deals will be delivered to the letter – exactly as agreed, not distorted, misinterpreted, reneged upon or ignored and forgotten.
  • If changes have to be made they will be discussed and agreed in advance.
  • The parties know the value of trust (and the cost of losing it).

In Business:

Trust is very difficult to maintain because:

Employees are for ever changing.

Market and economic pressures do not remain constant.

Greed for profit, commission or bonus have a negative impact – relationships are expendable when there is a quick profit to be made.

When an individual does not understand complexity, consequence, sustainability and the long term, they do not understand trust, relationships, integrity and partnership.

As a negotiator I do not trust anyone. Assumptions have to be tested.

Negotiating and Risk

Poor Negotiating creates Dangerous Risk – You Pay in the End!

A key objective (and responsibility) of a good negotiator is to reduce and manage risk.  The professional negotiator see these as fundamental responsibilities.

  •  To protect the security and safety of the organisation.
  •  To make sure that in doing a deal with other parties, those parties will not put at risk the security and safety of the organisation.
  • To ensure that there is adequate conditional protection built in to the deal.
  •  To make sure all parties are clear about the penalties for not honouring the agreement in full.
  •  That there is no doubt that the organisation and its servants have the determination to go through with the penalties and that is clearly understood by all parties to the agreement.
  • That all parties understand that subject to the above, the deal will be honoured in full as agreed.

However, in politics, being seen to negotiate may be more important than agreeing a deal. Sometimes there is no intention of going through with a deal anyway; it is enough to be at the negotiating table to buy into a club. During the process objectives, strategies and responsibilities become confused. Instead of negotiating to clearly defined outcomes, the game is corrupted by conflicting agendas – the original goal becoming lost in a fog of politics and vested interest.

Politicians sitting around the negotiating table add risk by allowing their own personal objectives to influence their party’s objectives, their sponsor’s objectives and their country’s aspirations.  With this level of complexity at work, simple mistakes and hidden agendas can have very significant consequences! In politics we often see a reliance on trust – but trusting politicians is risky business.

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