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Claims of Bias leave Blair’s Reputation as a Mediator in tatters

Mediators have many tasks that they have to juggle. They must seek to understand the causes of the conflict, monitor the state of the relationships, keep an eye on process and background legalities, and facilitate the generation of compromise positions.

But they have one other duty above all else, which is that they must remain neutral. If they are not perceived as neutral then they cannot possibly succeed, Only if both parties trust the mediator can the mediator influence the outcome – otherwise the parties will not share their secret hopes and fears, and reveal the areas where they may be prepared to compromise.

Tony Blair was always a curious choice as a Middle Eastern peace envoy, given that he is chiefly remembered for allegedly misleading his country into fighting a bloody war in the Middle East, in Iraq. It felt almost as though Gordon Brown was determined to shunt him off as far as possible from either domestic politics or Blair’s own comfort zone.

Blair’s own apparent relentless pursuit of financial gain since he left office also counts against him in establishing his credentials as a neutral. He has a £2 million a year contract with JP Morgan, and has been accused of championing clients of JP Morgan in two large business deals in the West Bank involving telecoms and gas. How can he be a credible member of the mediating Quartet, critics say, if he puts his own financial interests first?

Now it is suggested by the Palestinians (in this article in the Telegraph.co.uk) that he lobbied against them among European powers prior to their UN application for statehood, with officials like Nabi Shaath calling him “an Israeli Diplomat”.

There are many obstacles to Middle […]

By |October 3rd, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Claims of Bias leave Blair’s Reputation as a Mediator in tatters

Markets’ underlying lack of belief in Greece at the heart of Eurozone Crisis

One of the keys to any successful negotiation is confident bidding. If you are assertive and look like you believe what you are saying then the other party may believe that you mean what you say. If you are anxious, hesitant or evasive then the other side won’t believe you and are likely to exert pressure on you to get more of what they want.

This is the story of the Euro crisis in a nutshell, and the latest vote in the German Parliament to endorse a rescue package will not alter this dynamic in anything other than the short term.

The financial markets do not believe that the Eurozone governments and the ECB are really willing or able to ensure that struggling economies like Greece will honour their huge sovereign debts. This is particularly so with regard to Greece. Market sentiment seems much less concerned with Ireland now, Spain and Portugal are seen to be making headway in solving their problems, and Italy is not seen as quite such a basket case.

The doubts about Greece are partly caused by prevarication within the Eurozone itself. Every time the Eurozone Governments avoid dealing with the issue or pass the buck to the ECB these concerns are intensified and market panic ensues. It is fine that the German Bunderstag has endorsed the expansion of the EFSF rescue fund available for buying debt bonds from Eurozone governments including Greece. However, other countries still have to endorse the package, so the markets remain sceptical of the outcome, and will continue to demand sky-high yields from government bonds in the meantime, or avoid buying them – both of which enhance the prospects of a default.

The same thing happens every time […]

By |October 3rd, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Markets’ underlying lack of belief in Greece at the heart of Eurozone Crisis

What is Negotiation?

This may seem like a simple question to answer, but it is often the case that people think they are cutting a deal, when in fact they are getting nowhere.

In order for a ‘negotiation’ to happen, a set of six core ingredients need to be in place:

1. There are two or more parties
2. Everyone is at least prepared to reach an agreement
3. There are both interests in common and conflicting interests
4. Those involved have the freedom to meet each other’s needs
5. Everyone is willing to be explicit about their wants and needs (if they are not then there is no basis for negotiation)
6. People are prepared to compromise to some extent, so that everybody can feel they at least got something in the end.

So before starting a negotiation, ask yourself “are all of these ingredients present?” If they are not, then that might explain why it feels like a bit of a struggle, and you should work at adding the elements that are missing before continuing.

Many public ‘negotiations’ are in reality nothing of the sort, as one or more of these ingredients is missing. Where you have discussions with a protracted impasse, that is often the case – e.g. the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

Watch out for my follow up article next week entitled “What Makes an Effective Negotiator?”.

By |September 27th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on What is Negotiation?

Skipped Negotiation Stages must be addressed to prevent further TUC Strikes

The hostile state of mind at the TUC conference last week, and the ominous planning of strikes, does not bode well for Industrial relations in the UK over the coming months.

The problem here seems to have been that all the normal stages of a negotiation have been skipped, as a result of the Government’s Pensions Review, and the desired outcome has been declared by the Government without there really being a negotiation.

No doubt the urgent need to control public sector spending has been the driving force behind the Government’s thinking. As they look at the turmoil in EuroZone countries like Greece and Italy, and even the volatile US sovereign debt position, they must feel that the only sensible course of action is to continue to squeeze the public sector’s reliance on the taxpayer so as to demonstrate to Financial markets that the UK has its government spending under control. This makes sense logically – the UK is like any other business or family; if you owe too much money you either have to increase your revenues or cut your costs. Against this backdrop, a requirement for public sector workers to contribute more to their own pension plans as the population ages has some logic.

However, whilst the decision to curb the tax payer’s potential exposure to public sector pensions may make logical sense, it is clearly a decision in in which Union members have a stake and so they will have expected a negotiated solution. When you seek to impose a pre-determined solution on a party that is expecting to negotiate about it then you have to expect that a hostile climate is going to develop. This then results in the party that feels unfairly […]

By |September 23rd, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Skipped Negotiation Stages must be addressed to prevent further TUC Strikes

‘Climate’ reset could pave the way for improved Anglo-Russian Relations

The visit last week by David Cameron to Russia signals a desire to re-set the climate in negotiations between Russia and the UK.

The climate has been hostile ever since the murder of Alexander Litvenenko in London by a suspected Russian agent, Andre Lugovoi, in 2006. In fact even before that, back in 2003, things took a bad turn when Britain gave sanctuary to oligarch Boris Berezovsky, an arch Putin opponent.

The murder of Litvinov and how to deal with it has created a relationship conflict fuelled by strong emotions on both side. As has been the case here, these kinds of conflicts are often characterised by stereotyping on both sides and negative behaviour with mutual accusations and recriminations. Overlaying this “relationship” conflict is a ‘values” conflict. This kind of conflict arises where parties have different ideas for evaluating ideas or behaviour, or different ideologies or culture. The murder of Litvonov has created exactly this kind of values conflict. Whilst eliminating your opponents is certainly illegal in Russia, there is a long history of politically inspired violence which probably makes the UK Government’s horrified and indignant reaction to Litvonov’s death seem rather over the top To Mr. Putin and his regime. Especially given that they will feel that Britain taking in Boris Berezovsky was a hostile act.

Against this backdrop the visit by Cameron signifies a desire to re-set the climate. Climate is very important in negotiations – it’s one of the first stages, and it influences everybody’s state of mind and behaviour. If the climate is wrong the negotiation cannot be successful. It’s impossible to go from a “hostile” climate, which the UK and Russia have set, straight to a “warm” and open climate. However a […]

By |September 18th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on ‘Climate’ reset could pave the way for improved Anglo-Russian Relations

Lack of Clarity over Deezer offering could cost Orange

The announcement of the Deezer UK launch and its tie up with Orange shows how important it is to be clear when you make your “bid” as a negotiator. If you don’t then the impact of your bid will be lost and the other side will be much less likely to accept it. In this case the “negotiation” with users over whether to accept the Deezer offering may already have been somewhat lost

There was definitely some initial confusion over what the Deezer offer is in the UK. The Telegraph reported the UK launch of Deezer by simply stating the standard Deezer offering:

– £4.99/month to listen to unlimited streaming via computer only
– £9.99/month to listen to unlimited streaming via computer or/ mobile device and an offline mode (presumably recently streamed songs are stored somehow in the device/pc)

This was followed within days by Mobile Today reporting the Deezer/Orange offering which provides mobile streaming only to all of their pay-monthly customers (but not PC streaming from what I can gather) to bypass the £9.99/month tariff that would otherwise have been paid for this service.

To cap it all I also read that Deezer are still finalising their licensing agreements with the UK labels and publishers, so it is not clear if this offering is ‘live’ yet (there is nothing on Orange’s website about it despite the announcement that this would be in place from last week).

When you are negotiating, offering confusion and complexity are not great ways of persuading other people (in this case the public) to accept your bid. So, it will be interesting to see what impact (if any) this service has on Orange’s sign-up rate in the UK.

By |September 18th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Lack of Clarity over Deezer offering could cost Orange

Surprising Baidu Partnership could build Dell’s Negotiating ‘Authority’

Dell’s decision to launch tablets via a joint venture with Baidu in China rather than in the US or Europe is only reported in passing in this article (Reuters.com) but it is fascinating when examined from the perspective of bargaining power. First of all it suggests a further subtle shift in the tipping of bargaining power from West to East. It would seem China can now potentially deliver greater scale than Europe or the US for a technology company like Dell. This is an important source of bargaining power. China can also deliver greater “network” bargaining power – literally; the giant Baidu search engine can deliver 294 million users – that’s 70% of China’s online users. China can also deliver “authority” power – trading success here counts for an increasing amount in the rest of the world.

The move is also interesting for what it says about Dell’s negotiating power. Some analysts are very cynical about the development and Dell’s weak market position – one is quoted as suggesting that it is just “grasping at straws to get any kind of publicity”. Yet companies can create “authority” in many different ways. One way is for a company to be prepared to recreate itself. This creates an air of unpredictability which wrong-foots opponents. In addition, carrying out a strategic course of action boldly and decisively rather than timidly helps develop your authority.

Dell has a reputation for steady reliability rather than flair, but launching products exclusively in China is an unusual and perhaps unexpected step, and tying up with the leading Chinese search engine is an innovative form of partnership. This kind of initiative gets noticed by commentators (as this article demonstrates). And whether or not this […]

By |September 18th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Surprising Baidu Partnership could build Dell’s Negotiating ‘Authority’

Impact of Ratings Agencies’ actions shows them to have the ‘Upper Hand’

The tacit negotiation between Governments and debt Rating Agencies in relation to Eurozone debt (and indeed UK debt) illustrates some of the rules of power in negotiating very nicely.

Ratings Agencies seem to have the upper hand. Standard and Poor’s downgrading of the US ‘Triple A’ credit rating sparked a round of market falls and introspective comment concerning US debt and the way its political parties are managing the problem. Its constantly gloomy prognosis concerning Greek debt and the likelihood of default helps promote an air of ongoing crisis surrounding the Euro.

In recent days Moody’s Agency has cut the credit ratings of French Banks Societe Generale and Credit Agricole, partly because of their fears over exposure to Greek debt, immediately causing a further market funk across Europe. Only two days ago Standard and Poor warned that a widening of the debt crisis could have ratings serious consequences for German Banks, against a backdrop of another hastily arranged crisis conference call between Germany, France and Greece, and an anxious gathering of European Finance ministers in Poland

How do the Ratings Agencies do this? Firstly they are seen as having some expertise, because they often get their calls right. They say that a particular debt obligation or debt instrument should have its rating lowered and hey presto the markets respond to that judgement. This is of course self-fulfilling but the Agency’s expertise is nonetheless reinforced.

Ratings Agencies also do something else which devotees of power plays advocate. They win through action not argument. Some say that from the point of view of exercising power, argument or debate weakens your position, and that action is far more important. Standard and Poor’s don’t negotiate, they simply announce their decisions. This […]

By |September 18th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Impact of Ratings Agencies’ actions shows them to have the ‘Upper Hand’

Economic co-operation between Israel and Palestine could shift Mental State towards peace

The article “how to achieve peace ‘tomorrow’ in Israel-Palestine” focusing on Stuart Diamond’s theories on solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute raises many good points.

There is no real point in the Palestinian tactic of seeking a UN resolution. This move will be vetoed by the US, almost certainly, and the attention it creates will highlight Palestinian as much as Israeli intransigence. There is widespread support for the perceived “justice” of the Palestinian cause so there is no need to ventilate the issues again at the UN in order to further that objective. Furthermore, a resolution, if passed, would have absolutely no effect on Israel at all; it will just be perceived as a pressure tactic and will harden Israeli opinion.

The answer is for the two parties to adopt a mental position that peace is more desirable than a perpetual state of hostilities. Once that breakthrough is achieved it becomes possible to put in place a process that may get somewhere.

Stuart’s suggestion of economic co-operation as a part of that process is a good one. Economic co-operation within the EU has kept member countries at peace since 1945 – an unprecedented period of calm. Economic co-operation between Israel and Palestine can have a similar effect, because it delivers people on both sides what they most need – jobs, income, security. Once they see that these are the benefits of a peace process, that there is something to gain from a peace process and something to lose if it stops, then the process gains commitment. THEN, but not until then, is it possible to start talking about the content of a deal…

By |September 16th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Economic co-operation between Israel and Palestine could shift Mental State towards peace

Missed Negotiation ‘Stage’ means it’s back to the drawing board for AT&T

Maybe the blocking of the proposed AT & T/T Mobile merger by the US Justice Department is not so surprising after all.

Commentators were surprised because negotiations with the Justice Department were ongoing, and the AT and T lobbying team in Washington was led by the successful and experienced Jim Ciocone who has worked in the Reagan and Bush Administrations. Those were of course Republican regimes and I just wonder if enough adjustment has been made to accommodate the differing negotiation needs of a Democrat-led Administration?

Republican regimes are notoriously business-led and the Justice Department in previous eras will have wanted to align itself with big business – it will have almost had a “belonging” need in this respect. The Democrats will have a different agenda – including a “respect” need for their policy agenda which would be more focused on the outcome for consumers and less on the interests of big business. Given the perilous state of the jobs market there may also have been a “reassurance” need that the merger would not reduce levels of employment through rationalisation.

On the AT & T side the agenda would seem to be driven by an “achievement” need for Chief Executive Randall Stephenson and his Board – perhaps that got in the way of a full perception of what the DOJ actually required. A clue to the fact that there may have been a mismatch in terms of addressing underlying needs is that the disapproval of the deal seems to have happened so suddenly and been such a surprise to commentators.

If one side’s needs are not being met at the “exploration” stage of a negotiation then this often surfaces when “bids” are made, as there […]

By |September 9th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Missed Negotiation ‘Stage’ means it’s back to the drawing board for AT&T