November 2013
Raphael Lapin



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Dear Clients and Friends




In  this November '13 edition of  NEGOTIATION STRATEGIES is a one-minute case study in which we apply crucial lessons to be learned from the failed attempt to convene talks over the Syrian civil war in Geneva. For your reading convenience, we also distill these lessons into a brief lessons learned at the end of the column.


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Wishing you all a heartwarming Thanksgiving with family and friends! 



Raphael Lapin

Applying the Lessons to our own Negotiations



Recently, talks have been convened in Geneva towards negotiating a workable agreement between the Assad regime in Syria and the opposition.  According to Al-Monitor, a daily news publication out of Lebanon, claiming to monitor the pulse of the Middle East: "UN and Arab special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi does not seem very optimistic. Even though he keeps trying, he considers his chance of success to be no more than 10%".


I believe that Brahimi is being overly optimistic in estimating the chances of success at 10%. I would give it a 0% at this point because there is crucial and rigorous pre-negotiation groundwork that is necessary before serious negotiations can begin, and which will obstruct any productive movement as long as it is being neglected. 


On the surface, this appears to be a two party (Assad's regime and the opposition) negotiation, and the conveners in Geneva seem to be approaching it as such by attempting to facilitate dialogue between representatives of these two groups. 


What is less obvious to the international community observing this war from afar, is that the opposition itself is made up of many factions that do not necessarily have common goals and objectives. To mention just a few of these diverse groups, there is the Free Syrian Army, a self-declared non-sectarian group and the largest and most established opposition group made up of about 50,000 former military and civilian fighters. Then you have  the Syrian Liberation Front and the Syrian Islamic Front and unlike the non-sectarian Free Syrian Army, these groups adhere strictly to Islamic ideology. Jabhat al-Nusra is yet another group which has declared itself a Jihadist group and pledged allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri and to al-Qaida in Iraq. This group has been growing with thousands of men from the Free Syrian Army reportedly defecting to it's side. Al-Nusra has some of the rebels most tested and effective fighters and has been designated by the US as a terrorist group.


In addition to these actors in the theatre of the Syrian civil war, there are other stakeholders such as neighboring countries concerned about stability in the region. The West at large  also  has a concern about giving the Muslim extremists a strategic, political and economic foothold with which to advance their crusade of global domination. Adding to this labyrinth,  is the proxy-war element with the  principals really being Iran and Saudi Arabia  concerned with power and influence in the region as well as  the religious Shiite-Suni issue.  As we understand more about the opposition players and the concerned stakeholders, the nature of this negotiation becomes an extremely complex multi-party and multi-layered negotiation.


For purposes of this column and for the sake of simplicity however, let us focus on the opposition players only and not all the stakeholders identified above.


All these groups that make up the "opposition" have one thing in common in as far as what they DON'T want. They all DON'T want  Assad in power!  But for negotiations to advance effectively, it is not enough to know what the parties DON'T want -  we need to have a thorough understanding of what the parties DO want.  As far as what each faction of the opposition DOES want has not been very rigorously explored, meticulously uncovered and thoroughly understood.


By perceiving this as only a two-party negotiation is an abject oversimplification of the problem. Even if they successfully drive Assad from power, whether by negotiation or military force, the real problems will just  begin. In the absence of leadership, each of these factions  will vie for power and authority as each tries to fill  the vacuum left behind. Because each faction has such different drivers, goals,  interests and concerns, these negotiations need to be approached as a multi-party negotiation, and until that is recognized and implemented, there cannot be any effective,  durable and compliance-prone agreement.



Before there can be negotiations with the Assad regime and it's sponsors there needs to be serious internal dialogue and negotiation within the opposition groups themselves.


We need to understand what each faction is looking to achieve; what are the needs, fears and concerns of each? Which do they share and in which are they different? Which are in alignment and which are in conflict?  In what are each prepared to compromise and in what will they not yield? This process itself will generate enormous value in that so much will be learned about themselves, each other and whether or not a working coalition can exist between them.  


We then need to help them work towards creating a common vision for a future Syria that take all of their differing interests into account, and one which they all will be able to accept, if not embrace, and to live with. Only once this crucial groundwork is achieved, are we then ready to start facilitating talks with the other side.



Often we are negotiating either in teams or representing teams particularly in diplomatic or large corporate negotiations. The same is true for our counterparts. There are actors who are parties to the negotiation and there are stakeholders who are impacted and can influence the outcome of negotiations. Often each has their own individual interests and concerns that differ from one another.


When we are preparing for negotiations, we need to make sure that we explore and understand the differing individual perspectives, needs, and concerns within our own team so that we can reach a common  collective consensus of what we need to achieve in the negotiations. 


Similarly, when we are engaging with the other side, we must help  them, in a very non-threatening way, to  understand and merge their various individual needs towards a common and agreed upon objective, should it become evident that they are not on the same page. In this capacity, we should see ourselves almost as  collaborative counselors rather than negotiators, which will not only advance productive discussions but will also build a degree of trust. Only once this groundwork has  been effectively implemented, can we look forward towards a successful, productive, profitable and satisfying outcome.

  • Before negotiations start, think about the other players on your team and the various stakeholders in the negotiation.
  • Negotiate internally to ensure that you are all on the same page with regards to interests, needs, objectives and concerns.
  • Think carefully about the individual players and stakeholders on the other side - what might be some of their individual interests, needs, objectives and concerns.
  • When differing positions become evident, assume the role of counselor as you help them negotiate internally to reach agreement on what they hope to achieve in the negotiations.
  • At times, recognize that there may be several conflicting voices even within one party to the negotiation -  there too, be a counselor and help him/her to resolve those voices to gain clarity.

About1About Lapin Negotiation Strategies 


Lapin Negotiation Strategies offers training, consulting, advising and executive coaching in negotiation, business diplomacy and dispute resolution services.


Our proprietary and aggressively results oriented services are designed to help your leadership, teams and individuals master the essential negotiation, relationship-building and conflict management skills that increase revenues, decrease the high cost of conflict and build strong working relationships.

Our skilled specialists will:
  • Help your organization build a highly effective negotiation competency and culture which translates into increased revenue and strong business relationships.
  • Develop high impact, customized learning systems to develop advanced skills and powerful techniques in negotiation, dispute resolution and relationship management.
  • Provide advice, strategy, guidance and representation in live negotiation challenges
  • Facilitate, mediate and advise in dispute resolution
  • Create a culture of collaboration by guiding and training teams and divisions to engage in dialogue, to negotiate and to partner
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Raphael Lapin

Raphael Lapin, a Harvard trained negotiation and communication specialist. He is adjunct professor of law at Whittier School of Law in Southern California and visiting professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Raphael trains and advises Fortune 500 companies and governments around the world and is the author of "Working with Difficult People" (DK Penguin Essential Managers Series)
Working with Difficult People
 Learn more about Raphael Lapin's book, "Working with Difficult People" by clicking on the image above