October 2013
Raphael Lapin



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Dear Clients and Friends




In  this October '13 edition of  NEGOTIATION STRATEGIES please find a one-minute case study in which we extract lessons from the Syrian crisis.. We also distill the column into a brief lessons learned at the end for your convenience.


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With very best wishes! 



Raphael Lapin




Observing diplomatic events, international crises and foreign policy implementation, provides excellent opportunities for the study of negotiation. The recent events in Syria are certainly no exception. The actors in this particular scenario, Assad, Obama and Putin all played their characters so well that, but for the tragic loss of human life and the serious erosion of US credibility and diplomacy,  it is hard  to believe that this was not a scripted Shakespearean comedy!  


Although the lessons of this particular crisis are many, in this column I shall highlight three that we can all apply to our own negotiations.



Opening a negotiation with a rigid position or demand locks us into a corner and makes our counterparts defiant and defensive. When Obama established a red-line in the event that Syria deploys chemical weapons, he left no room for negotiation and could not realistically attack either. He placed himself in an untenable situation. Of course, he banked on the fact that his threat (as empty as it turned out to be) would serve as a deterrent and his resolve would never be tested. Unfortunately, he was tragically wrong.


He would have been better served had he stated his objective and desired outcome rather than threaten with a rigid and specific action. He may rather have said something like "We will work rigorously and relentlessly to make sure that Syria refrains from using any chemical weapons now or in the future". This would have left the door wide open for a range of diplomatic or military options without locking himself in and without losing credibility.


In opening any negotiation state your objective and not your rigid position or demand. Your objective is what  outcome you are hoping to achieve in this negotiation without a specific and rigid way of how that objective may be met - that will be worked out together during the negotiation. 


Examples of objectives as opposed to rigid positions might be: a fair price or fair compensation; a workable benefits package;  or reasonable mitigation of risk. Your counterpart will be much more receptive to this and will not become defiant and defensive.  It will also leave the door wide open to explore a range of possibilities of how those objectives might be achieved, in a safe venue and without loss of credibility.



There is a Talmudic dictum that says that a prisoner cannot release himself from prison. The same dictum applies when your counterpart has locked themselves into an untenable situation much the same as Obama did by establishing a non-implementable red-line. They are prisoners of their own folly and cannot release themselves. Putin understood this well and artfully and tactfully released Obama from his self-imposed prison by brokering a deal in which Syria would agree to dismantle her chemical weapons stockpiles. This was the "out" that Obama was hoping for and embraced with open arms.


When your counterpart has locked themselves in by opening with a rigid position or demand, help them with an "out" by working to uncover their true objective and desired outcome and offer them an alternative way of achieving that objective.


You may even help them save face by saying something like: "When you stated your initial position, I suppose it was before we thought of this alternative, is that correct?" This allows them to back down from their original position with grace and dignity.



Sometimes negotiations  fail, not because of the substantive issues at hand, but because of the interpersonal dynamics between the negotiators. Obama and Assad could never have been suitable negotiation partners due to the lack of trust and respect each had for the other, and the suspicion with which each regarded the other. Highly effective negotiations are best built upon a platform of a working relationship which was totally absent in this case.  Putin recognizing his relationship asset and advantage with Assad, stepped in to successfully negotiate a  resolution.


When negotiations are stalled, be prepared to examine the dynamics and relationship between the negotiators. If the relationship appears to be poor or seriously distressed, consider changing the negotiators. Often this will break the impasse and allow negotiations to advance productively and constructively

  • Become a better negotiator by learning from current world events
  • Avoid rigid specific positions and inflexible demands
  • Present your negotiation objectives and desired outcomes and remain open to how those objectives might be met
  • Find ways to help your counterpart out of tight positions he may have locked himself into and help them save face
  • If the relationship between the negotiators is poor and the negotiations are stalled, be prepared to change negotiators.

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, mediation, dispute resolution 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