What does not work in negotiations: 3 insights from an international perspective

There are many misconceptions in the public discourse regarding things that make negotiations effective. 

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko and François Hollande ("The Normandy Four")

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko and François Hollande ("The Normandy Four")

Having worked for over 10 years as an interpreter and translator in Belarus for a number of international organizations (the World Bank, the United Nations, EBRD, the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine etc), I have observed a few things that almost never seem to work.

1. You cannot “beat” the other side in the negotiation. International negotiations are almost never purely about distributing the value. And just agreeing to sign an agreement is the beginning of a long implementation process.  Negotiators represent not only themselves but a number of various stakeholders.  If only one side “wins”, the deal is not very likely to be accepted by these stakeholders, so it won’t be implemented properly. The goal is to establish credibility and find creative   solutions that work for both sides in the long term.

2.  Threats in most cases don’t get you far.  However confident you are that you deserve the things that you are requesting, by issuing a threat or an ultimatum you shift the focus from the issue at hand towards a possible conflict.  Giving in to your threat  might make your counterparts look weak to their internal audience. So it is more likely that they will come at you with threats of their own.

3. Persuasion does not work. Listening does. For an agreement to work or even to be approved by all the necessary authorities, you need the other side to become your advocate. They should proactively work on the details and hurdles to make the deal work in their context. It’s not something you can do with persuasion. To get to such a level of commitment, you need to have a strong relationship with your counterparts. Building the relationship starts with listening.

Avoiding these common misconceptions will make you more effective in most sophisticated business negotiations.