Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter June 1999

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"Speak softly and carry a big stick." former US President Theodore Roosevelt

"You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone." American gangster Al Capone

"Jaw-jaw is better than war-war." former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan

As this newsletter is being written, the news media are full of stories of the apparent endgame of the NATO military effort in Yugoslavia. According to many analysts, the actions of Yugoslav President Milosevic over the past several years made it clear that he cannot be trusted to fulfill a negotiated agreement.

Sometimes negotiations can be said to fail because no agreement is reached. In the Yugoslav scenario no mutual agreement was signed by the representatives of Milosevic's government or the Kosovo Liberation Army in Rambouillet, France. The failure of that negotiation process to yield a mutually-agreed solution has been used to justify NATO's decision to conduct an air war to convince President Milosevic to change the status of the province of Kosovo. It was an alternative to negotiation.

There is another way in which negotiation can be called a failure; that is when parties reach an agreement - - and then fail to fulfill their obligations. Thus a tenant may agree to pay a specific monthly rental for a house, but never actually pay the full amount. Representatives of businesses may shake hands on a deal, but try to find ways to avoid meeting their commitments. Sometimes, particularly in the United Kingdom, members of labor unions who are not happy about their employment contract choose to 'work to rule' -- they live up to the letter of the agreement, but not its spirit. Each of these cases presents either a short- or long-term example of failed negotiations.

The question we face is whether force is needed to get parties to reach or fulfill agreements. Force may take the form of violence, either a personal confrontation between individuals or the use of military power. Power is often considered a synonym for force. In that case, when parties are negotiating, the balance of power may indeed push a party to be more agreeable or more aggressive.

The quotations attributed to Theodore Roosevelt and Al Capone imply that an imbalance of power is indeed an important element in bringing about negotiation. Prime Minister Macmillan's preference for 'jaw-jaw' (talking) over war does not deny the possibility that a power imbalance may play a significant role in bringing about decision-making. However, Mr. Macmillan's words carry a value judgement that goes beyond the conclusion that force or power is a necessary part of the negotiaton equation. By saying it is better to talk than to fight, Macmillan is outlining a fundamental standard for judging human behavior.

What I have read and seen about the implementation of nationalism in the old Yugoslav republics is abhorrent and appalling. Whether we are faced with nationalists who practice barbarity against people who are different from themselves or teenagers lacking a value system who murder schoolmates, we are compelled to accept the reality that in some situations, negotiation is not an effective weapon against ongoing violence. The following statement may be confusing to people who do not live in the USA, but is not meant to offend anyone: "I want to live in a world in which the only acceptable form of ethnic cleansing is a Chinese laundry."

Negotiation works when people or the constituencies they represent want to change the situation that exists and can find others who not only share that desire for change but also have resources to offer that can contribute to the achievement of that change. Resolution of problems occurs when both we and others change; if all the change is one-sided, the negotiated agreement may fail to be implemented.

If we follow that analysis, perhaps we can view parties who 'carry a big stick' as people who have bargaining chips to offer that expand the likelihood that the negotiation will yield gains for everyone. An imbalance of power need not be viewed as an impediment to change, but rather as something that can be modified through the use of thoughtful and imaginative negotiation.

Dealing with barbarians without using force is the ultimate test of whether negotiation can work. Forcing them to agree by using the brutality of military action may put an end to their inhumane actions; the question is whether the ultimate resolution at the bargaining table will bring about results that will be honored once the 'big stick' is taken away.

TNSC MOVES FORWARD: Bulgaria and Beyond

We have received word from a Professor in Bulgaria informing us he encourages his students to use our website as a textbook in his negotiation course.

In the past six weeks we have presented programs in four countries to companies involved in soft-drinks, financial reporting, information technology, management consulting, and other fields. Program participants from such countries as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Thailand, France, the UK, the United States, and the Netherlands have all contributed to our own ongoing learning process and our continuing belief that focusing on parties interests can help overcome cultural barriers.

TNSC's website continues to receive a fascinating variety of questions: from Bahrain an inquiry about the different negotiation styles of men and women, from Norway curiosity about distinguishing between short-term and long-term relationships, and always questions on how to get the boss to pay more.


"Leave a good name in case you return." Kenyan folk saying quoted in 'Bargaining For Advantage' by G. Richard Shell

Good luck and good negotiating,

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