Not all negotiations are created equal

The past months have played stage to two of the most signification negotiations with global impact of the year: the nuclear deal between Iran and the US, and the negotiations between Greece and the rest of the EU, commonly known as the “Grexit” to those who don’t like unnecessary syllables. And while both of these might converge under the umbrella term “negotiation”, to judge both of them as having been of equal processes with similar impact would be a miscalculation and misrepresentation of their natures.

Starting to Dance

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single occurrence in either the Iranian nuclear or the Greek ‘default’ negotiations that led one to be so widely accepted as a successful process (with Republican exceptions), whereas the other is not. Of course, these were diverse scenarios and most importantly, the critical periods before each negotiation were very different.

CEDR’s book entitled “Mastering Negotiation”, due out this autumn, takes readers on a step-by-step by step journey through the process of a negotiation. The book isn’t particularly short, with thirteen chapters written by over twenty authors, but each view is necessary because the decision to enter a negotiation and see it through to the end is not an easy one. The process of preparing to negotiate can be highly challenging if done thoroughly. Negotiations, like many other things in life require an immense amount of patience – and preparation.

Iran: We’re taking things slow

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the name for the deal reached regarding Iran’s nuclear program, was almost two years in the making. An interim agreement was signed by Iran and the P5+1 countries (UK, US, China, France, Russia, plus Germany) in November of 2013. The final agreement was signed by all parties (plus the EU) much more recently – exactly one month ago on July 14, 2015.

So why did this take so long? Putting aside the perhaps the tendency for bureaucratic behaviour within all governments, the ‘delay’ allowed a strategic period during which parties prepared, conversed, slowly gained some trust from each other, and reached a point at which they could have a productive discussion that led to real outcomes. By taking the talks at a their own pace, rather than as a constant mad rush with a series of midnight deadlines, negotiators gave themselves the time to come up with an agreement that would enable all parties to return home with what was needed for a viable solution.

Greece: Dive right in

The negotiation between Greece’s with other EU countries and its creditors was of a very different style. At an emergency summit on one particular Sunday, Greek officials were told that they would need to enact sweeping reforms before talks would be able to start – a decision that they would need to make by midnight on Wednesday of the same week. This stands in stark contrast to the amount of time that Iranian and P5+1 officials had during their talks with Iran.

Without having the luxury of time on their side, negotiations were more rushed and officials had to prioritise their midnight deadline. Throughout talks were wrought with emotion, lacking the rationality that the time allowance allotted during nuclear talks, and the rushed, backed-into-a-corner feeling of the referendum left citizens voting on unarticulated ideas of what would happen if the reforms were to be passed. This week, a month later, a deal has been done which will hopefully get Greece over finish line –subject to parliamentary approval.

When concentrating on the game don’t forget the players

Previous history played a huge role in the different paths of the two negotiations. The nature of Iranian-American relations having been so fraught and strained for so long that when it came to sitting at the table both sides (both the government of Hassan Rouhani and the Obama Administration, as led by John Kerry) were very sensitive to what had been before an how not to ‘upset the applecart’. Yet when it came to the Greek ‘bailout’ negotiations there was possibly an assumption that because this was – at least on one level – about finances that all the negotiators would be constantly and consummately professional.

The reality with the Greek negotiations was that actually it was all too easy to start taking developments personally and become emotional. On 18 June, Christine Legarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, warned “for the moment we are short of a dialogue, the key emergency is to restore the dialogue with adults in the room,” – a frustrated reference to the other side. On the other hand, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras repeatedly lashed out at his country’s creditors (often using social media) as attitudes hardened amongst other members of the EU.

Where are we now?

It would be a mistake not to consider the immediate effects of the negotiations on the general populations of the two countries most heavily involved: whereas the economic impression of the nuclear deal might become visible to the Iranian public (in positive ways) as time goes on, the Greek situation is one that has a more tangible and immediate effect on the public (with short-term relief but still future hardships), something that was especially visible during the referendum.

Must a properly conducted negotiation contain winners on all sides? Not everyone is thoroughly happy with the result of the Iran deal, but what can be said is that the manner in which the nuclear deal was conducted, with sensitivity, allowed for both sides to reach the workable outcome. With Greece the challenge was definitely underestimated. As the authors of our book “Mastering Negotiation” discuss, one can get from a negotiation what is put into it: with time, patience, and effort, a negotiation can find and solution for all. However, without giving the process sufficient consideration and even design, mediocre results are more likely.

Mr Tsipras raised the stakes as he arrived in Brussels on Wednesday for talks with Greece’s creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – denouncing their “strange stance” over his reform plans. “This odd stance seems to indicate that either there is no interest in an agreement or that special interests are being backed,” he tweeted.

Mr Tsipras insisted Greece’s planned reforms were being treated unfairly compared to those of other troubled euro members, tweeting: “The repeated rejection of equivalent measures by certain institutions never occurred before – neither in Ireland nor Portugal.”

 

 

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