Getting the most out of a meeting: The 10 Do’s and Don’ts

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In my last blog I wrote about Jonathan Powell’s book ‘Talking to Terrorists’. This week, continuing the theme, 10 ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ on the day.

1 Agree something, even something minor, early to build confidence. Or put a proposal on the table so attractive that the other party simply cannot afford to walk away

2 Listen for nuances. For what people are, and aren’t, saying including ‘the gaps that indicate what they aren’t ruling out’

3 Ask ‘why’. To ascertain what their real position is or why symbolic issues are important to them. Especially as these tend to be more significant than substantial

4 Cut to the chase. Get to your bottom line quickly. If you are clear and consistent they will understand your signals and be more willing to settle quickly

5 Don’t play tricks. Outwitting someone rarely lasts. It just undermines your trustworthiness. Or as Henry Kissinger revealingly said ‘It is essential to cultivate the appearance of reliability in negotiations’

6 Be patient and phlegmatic. Mediation is like jazz. It is not linear. Sometimes, when things ‘look like they are surging ahead they are in fact about to collapse’. Or when they seem at their bleakest, there’s about to be a breakthrough. Focus on your ultimate goal. But be flexible on tactics

7 Know when to stop haggling. There’s often a critical point at which marginal gains aren’t worth the loss of confidence. The deal will either rapidly come together then or stagnate.

8 Beware of spoilers… They can bring negotiations crashing down. Whether they do or not depends on how you react. Stay calm. Maybe even offer a sweetener so that they feel they have won something late on. Better they sign with a smile than a grimace.

9 … or an outbreak of ‘buyers remorse’

10 Win control of the pen. If you can’t, think about counter-proposals that sound the same but work in your favour.

In a couple of weeks, tactics worth considering but that can sometimes backfire. Like ‘finding an ambiguous form of words on which everyone can agree while they wait for something to change’, a skill that Robert Cooper characterised as being essential for diplomats.