Negotiation planning – when good politics means bad strategy

As a student of negotiation, an ex-practitioner but still an interested observer, it is sometimes fascinating to look at wider political events in that context. And there's a somewhat worrying example at the moment.

Imagine going into a negotiation with a particularly difficult supplier. They currently do some business, and getting out of that arrangement would be difficult - perhaps very difficult. However, you really need them to sharpen up their delivery and quality performance, and you know they are charging you 20% over the market prices.

How do you prepare for the negotiation? Well, you would try and make it easier to move away from them as a supplier. And when you go into battle with them, you would make it very clear that if you can't reach a satisfactory conclusion, you will take business away from them. Yes? Does that seem a sensible approach?

Or might you say this to them.

"We are very, very displeased with you. Your service, pricing and quality are appalling. We really need you to change, or there will be serious consequences for you. But whatever happens, we won't actually take any business away from you".

Would that work? Would it be sensible? Of course not. Even if you really don't want to move business, you want them to believe that you might if they don't do what you want. That's a fundamental aspect of negotiation - developing your BATNA and making sure the other party believes you have a strong alternative to a negotiated agreement.

But western politicians, Obama and Cameron included, are doing exactly what we've just recognised as a wrong strategy. They are telling the lunatic savages in the Islamic State movement, "we're very annoyed with you, please stop chopping people's heads off. But we're definitely not going to send in our troops".

Now it is easy to understand why our leaders are doing this from a political point of view. They believe that their voting citizens don't have the appetite for another middle eastern war. They may be right. So politically, with newspapers ready with "sending our brave lads off to die in strange lands" stories, I can understand totally why they are following this approach.

But as a negotiation strategy or a piece of diplomacy (which after all is largely negotiation) it is a dreadful example - a case study in fact of how NOT to position yourself to an adversary in that situation.

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