Negotiation – A Greek Tragedy?

We're pleased to feature this guest post from Michael Campbell, an experienced consultant whose area of specialism includes negotiation training. 

Yes, lots of people are using references to “A Greek Tragedy” at the moment regarding the unfortunate events – supposed “Negotiations” - between the Euro Zone and the Greek Government!

As a much younger man I went to a performance of a theatrical Greek Tragedy at the wonderful Epidaurus amphitheatre. In preparation for which I had researched what actually is a “Greek Tragedy”, and the following is one of the definitions:
“A moral play in which the protagonist, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal”.

I leave it you as to whether this definition reminds you of any of the “players” in the recent events! In the spirit of things, I have for you a work in five Acts.

Act One – Power

In preparing for, and conducting, a negotiation it is vital to have an understanding of the balance of power and the sources/elements of that power. In the recent Euro Zone/Greek negotiations, both sides (from a distance) seemed to believe that each had a position of power – how can this be? One of the aspects of Philosophy that has served me well in my business career is: “Perception is reality – change perception, change reality”.

Did the “Grexit” participants actually address and try to understand, a) the drivers of power for the negotiations; and, b) each other’s perceptions of the respective “power positions”?

So, the “Morals” from Act One are:
α. That in your preparation you should “reality check” your perceptions of the balance and sources of power, remembering that there is both situational power and personal power.
β. That during the negotiation process both sides will be trying to change the other’s perception of the power position.

Act Two - People

In our negotiation training work at NRI we firmly believe that a key negotiation fundamental is that “people negotiate with other people”. It is not organisations, processes nor logical constructs negotiating with equivalents – but people with people.

So how does someone, supposedly an expert (always worrying!) end up being persona non grata at the negotiation table? We know from extensive experience and research that assertiveness rather than aggressiveness is the more successful, sustainable and productive approach to the interpersonal dimensions. We describe this as “Warm/Tough” i.e. be “Warm” towards the person whilst being “Tough” on the (business) issue.

Yes, we can all think of instances where pure aggression has apparently “won” – but for how long and at what cost? Back to perceptions again?

Another key aspect in Act Two is “Trust”. Something spoken about at length recently due to the perceptions of it being absent from the behaviours of various key players. This is very important and we coach negotiators to address “Trust” on three main levels (based on Sato):
- Contractual Trust
- Competence Trust
- Goodwill trust

 So, the “Morals” from Act Two are:
α. Distinguish between being “Warm” towards the other negotiators, whilst being “Tough” on the issues.
β. Be clear what level/type of trust that you and they are expecting.
¥. Establish interpersonal connection based on positivity and trust.


Acts Three and Four – Ploys and Persuasion – will be with you soon!




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First Voice

  1. Omar Khan:

    Excellent article with quite a brilliant play on the Greek allegory.

    However, not withstanding the allegorical comparisons of that highly charged Euro-zone drama, what I found interesting was another aspect of the Negotiation process between Greece and EU ministers. Power Vs. Leverage. I have always sided with the school of thought that believes; a right amount of “leverage” will beat the “power” any day on the negotiation table. Clearly, EU Zone had the power but Greece used the leverage quite skillfully and successfully. That being said, all is well that ends well.

    By the way, I can hardly wait to read the Acts three and four.

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