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

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter December 2004

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 31, December 2004

The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


In recent statements, US President George W. Bush has announced that all US negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program must be multilateral, that there will not be any bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea. Negotiators can draw a variety of conclusions about this approach.

To a certain extent, President Bush is wisely making certain that there is no collusion among a small number of the parties that would undercut an overall agreement among the six countries (North Korea, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, Russia and China) that have been working on the issue. On the other hand, taking a positional approach ('My way or the highway') and insisting that the negotiation process to stay within narrow guidelines could be an obstacle to creative solutions and could bar the possibility of flexibility in future negotiations.

We often feel that the bulk of our negotiating is with single parties - regarding both business and personal decisions. But when we reflect, often elements of negotiations' outcomes have a significant impact on many parties. The dilemma we face is whether to deal with everyone and every issue at the same time or to address a smaller number of issues and/or negotiation partners as part of the process of collaborating to bring about a result that will get buy-in from the largest possible number of stakeholders.

When there are multiple issues and multiple parties, undertaking formal negotiations without adequate preparation can be especially damaging. However it is crucial to play by whatever rules have been agreed to in the preliminaries that precede a formal negotiation process.

The first lesson to take from that is to understand that negotiating parties need to agree in advance on several elements in the process. Timing, location, who is involved, what items are on the agenda, whether there is a deadline, and which parties have which responsibilities are all matters that, if agreed in advance, can make for a smoother process. Decisions on these issues are open to discussion by sub-groups of the total number of parties.

A good multi-party, multi-issue negotiation is more likely to result if each party has done as much homework as possible with other parties as well as non-participating stakeholders. This should make the formal process more likely to yield an agreement acceptable to the involved parties.

Asking preliminary questions to get a sense of other parties' interests, what will drive their decisions, and how they will assess the fairness of the process is a crucial part of preparation. By the same token, there must be a clear understanding among the ultimate negotiating parties that preliminary conversations are meant to smooth the process, not force particular results.

In negotiations among nations, transparency in the development of the process - and adherence to mutually agreed rules - increases the likelihood that the ultimate agreement will be accepted and fulfilled. Undercutting those rules can wipe out the credibility of the process and yield agreements lacking full commitment.

Outside the international political realm, civilized negotiations aren't generally undertaken against a background of military force. Nonetheless, the desired outcome of a good negotiation process remains the same: an agreement each party will willingly fulfill.

Playing by the rules underscores parties' credibility and a sense that the process is fair. So, to paraphrase an old friend from my undergraduate days, you should remember that negotiation is a process, but you should also remember to follow the process's rules.


McGraw-Hill is printing a revised version of Negotiating Skills for Managers this month. You can find new articles on our website, including one published in The Human Factor in India in October, 2004.

TNSC is adding new trainers to our roster who have a broad range of negotiation and training experience in several countries. Watch for their bios and photos appearing on our website.


"One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears - by listening to them." Dean Rusk

Good luck with your negotiations,

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