Sunday, September 16, 2012

Negotiation as a tool for decision making

The Economist this week printed an obituary for Roger Fisher, the author of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Fisher is described as someone who worked his whole life to help people and nations to avoid crises through negotiation.

It occurs to me that I have not posted on negotiation. While the blog had dealt with individual decision making and group decision making, it has not dealt with negotiation. Here, according to the Economist is what Fisher had to say:
Mr Fisher had a system. He outlined it with William Ury in his book “Getting to Yes” (1981), which sold 3m copies; he also taught it to students, especially, from 1979, through his Harvard Negotiation Project. Like all good tools, it got better with use. In any negotiation, he wrote—even with terrorists—it was vital to separate the people from the problem; to focus on the underlying interests of both sides, rather than stake out unwavering positions; and to explore all possible options before making a decision. The parties should try to build a rapport, check each other out, even just by shaking hands or eating together. Each should “listen actively”, as he always did, to what the other was saying. They should recognise the emotions on either side, from a longing for security to a craving for status. And they should try to get inside each other’s heads....... 
(H)e grew up as one of six children, preferring to strike bargains rather than land a punch. Later on, still bargain-minded, he would stroll the souks of Damascus or Jerusalem, looking to expand his collection of ancient weights. Every one of those pieces represented a tough negotiation successfully concluded. For those who found his principles too idealistic, he could point to age-old haggling tricks he also recommended: pretending not to be interested, refusing to react to pressure, being prepared to walk away.
These negotiations can be regarded as a special case of two party decision making, where a successful negotiation is one in which two parties having different (often conflicting) interests come to a mutual decision.

I recently read Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II and 1938: Hitler's Gamble and am now reading The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945. All three deal extensively with the negotiations taking place around World War II. The diplomatic negotiations resulted in an Axis led by Germany, Italy and Japan at war with Allies led by the USSR, the British Empire, the United States and a remnant of the French Empire. The formation of each of those coalitions involved negotiations, not only with potential allies, but also with potential enemies.

In each of the countries there were factions that negotiated about the preferred policy for their nation. In many, the party in power was confronted with challenges to its leadership. Thus leaders of the intergovernmental negotiations were also faced by the needs and opportunities for domestic negotiations. Indeed, governments were negotiating with non-governmental actors in other nations. It is perhaps not surprising that with Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and Stalin leading negotiations for their governments the process led to the greatest war the world had ever seen. All that parties could seem to agree upon was how to divide the sides to war against each other. Even then, there were French who joined the Germans to fight against the Soviet Union and Russians who joined the Germans to fight against the Allies.

It is perhaps surprising that the United Nations has developed a process through which many conventions (i.e. multilateral treaties) have been successfully negotiated. Diplomats have become skillful at such negotiations, finding common goals that can be advanced by intergovernmental agreements, achieving benefits for their countries that outweigh perceived real or potential losses.

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