Whether negotiating high level international negotiations,or corporate deals in business, the negotiation principles, fundamentals and processes are the same. As such, it makes sense to examine high profile international negotiations, learn from them and improve our skills by applying the lessons to our own business negotiations.
The recent framework agreement that the P5+1 reached with Iran over the nuclear weapons issue, drew very conflicting responses from heads-of-state, diplomats, politicians and pundits from all over the world. There were those who felt it was an acceptable deal, others felt, that although it was not great, it was still better than no deal. At the same time there were others who felt that no deal would have been preferred. In addition, some were concerned with compliance,verification and enforcement. What was most conspicuous however, was that the P5+1 did not attempt, nor were they able to defend and support the terms of the agreement or to alleviate the concerns of the many detractors and critics!
In any negotiation, if we are unable to explain to ourselves, to our superiors, to constituents or to others as to why we consented to a particular agreement, it is a clear indication that the negotiation process was flawed and that the outcome is bound to be suboptimal.
Why then, did the P5+1 fail to defend their position to the world in their negotiations with Iran?
By all accounts, there was never any discussion internally, amongst the P5+1 about what objectives are vital in these negotiations,and without which an agreement would not be reached. They seemed to go into the negotiations without adequate preparation or strategy with which to lead the negotiations. Furthermore, because they did not have this discussion, they were narrowly fixated on the issue of uranium enrichment and neglected to expand and include other more global and important objectives in the negotiations. Instead they reacted and evaluated limited proposals from the other side without any authentic frame of reference against which to measure.
Before going into any negotiation it is imperative to discuss internally within your team and reach consensus about what all the key objectives are that must be addressed and achieved in the negotiations. Had the P5+1 had this discussion, rather than focusing only on uranium enrichment, their list may have looked something like this:
- A stable Iran
- Containing or at least mitigating the immediate nuclear threat with assurance of compliance
- An eventual non-proliferation Iran
- Assured stability and acceptable balance of power in the region
- Avoiding an arms race in the region
- Restraining Iran's destabilizing proxy wars
- A strategy that will generate and ensure future co-operation with the west
- A broader Middle-East vision and policy to work towards with positive engagement of Iran.
(Note, that these are not solutions or demands, but global objectives. There may be many ways as to how these objectives might be met, which can be explored during the negotiations. In the end, however, whatever solutions will be agreed upon, will need to adequately meet these broad objectives)
This list of objectives would have provided a direction for the negotiations. It would also have served as a frame of reference against which to evaluate any proposal by examining to what extent these objectives are met. Furthermore, it would provide a means of defending and supporting their agreement by showing how their stated objectives were in fact met. Not having a previously established, comprehensive and stated list of objectives, the P5+1 were hard pressed to defend their position to the public.
In our business negotiations too, it is important that before entering into negotiations, we identify and establish our firm objectives that will need to be met for us to agree to a deal. We cannot negotiate an optimal outcome if we do not know what we need to achieve. During this discussion it is also imperative that we expand and broaden our objectives beyond just the obvious presenting narrow issue, which is often just around cost and pricing.
As a simple illustration, in negotiating a job offer, instead of just fixating on compensation, there are other important objectives to include in the negotiation, for example, perhaps an extended start date, reasonably generous vacation days, job description and title, signing bonus, promotion schedule and possible stock options.
When negotiating the sale of a business, there might be objectives beyond just fair price such as continuing the company legacy, preserving a minority stake in the company, possibly a managerial role and protecting security of workers.
If the negotiation involves the purchase of capital equipment, objectives may include installations costs, preferential maintenance costs,service level agreements, extended warranties and software and hardware upgrades.
In the end, we should seek to craft an integrated solution package which on aggregate, achieves our stated objectives. When achieved, we can be rest assured that our negotiation was a successful one and we will be able to convince and persuade others who matter, that the agreement was a wise one too!