Brexit = A Poorly Managed Political Negotiation
Brexit = A Poorly Managed Political Negotiation
I can’t say “Brexit” without choking down laughter. But many people are passionate about Brexit, and I don’t mean to make light of it. But what’s amusing from an outside perspective? How would Brexit have been negotiated better? Keld Jensen returns to the Negotiations Ninja podcast to apply his expertise to another contract negotiation that would have benefitted from his input.
Outline of This Episode
- [2:42] Was Brexit an amazing deal?
- [4:54] What was negotiated well?
- [7:03] Political negotiation vs. business negotiation
- [8:26] Mistake #1: The wrong people at the table
- [10:34] Mistake #2: Too many cooks in the kitchen
- [13:22] Mistake #3: No concrete negotiation strategy
- [17:21] What can other countries learn from this?
- [19:42] How to apply this to the business landscape
- [21:58] Ask the counterparty questions—then listen
- [23:52] Life or Death listening by Dan Oblinger
Resources & People Mentioned
- Life or Death Listening by Dan Oblinger
- The Trust Factor: Negotiating in SMARTnership by Keld Jensen
- Honest Negotiation by Keld Jensen
- Episode #199 with Mihai Isman
Connect with Keld Jensen
Connect With Mark
- Follow Negotiations Ninja on Twitter: @NegotiationPod
- Connect with Mark on LinkedIn
- Follow Negotiations Ninja on LinkedIn
- Connect on Instagram: @NegotiationPod
Mark: Welcome to the Negotiations Ninja podcast, where we develop and deliver the most engaging negotiation content and training in the world. We host negotiation experts, business people and entrepreneurs and discuss what works, what doesn't work and how we can improve our negotiation skills. Negotiations Ninja listeners, welcome to round two of my marathon conversation with Keld Jensen. We're going to be talking a little about Brexit in this conversation. He brings a unique perspective because of the research that he's done and the continued work that he does in negotiation in both sort of the public policy world, the academic world, the business world and he brings such unique insights to the conversation. Overall, I really enjoyed this discussion. Enjoy. Keld, round two. Here we are. Welcome.
Keld Jensen: Thank you, Mark.
Mark: For the listeners, just so that you know, Keld and I are doing a marathon today in negotiation conversation. We just discussed what's going on with COVID-19 and how's that going to affect technology conversation, negotiation agreements. That is an episode that we did last week. We're recording it in the same session this week. We're going to be talking all about Brexit and the, shall we call it a negotiation? The negotiation that happened with Brexit. But before we get into that conversation, Keld, can you tell the listeners who you are and what you do?
Keld Jensen: Sure. I do negotiation really. That's been my mission since 1998. I believe that we do have a lot of great negotiators out there, but we can all improve all the time. I'm doing that through lecturing, keynotes. I'm a professor at three different universities and I've written a number of books on the topic of negotiations. Yeah, that's it, short version.
Mark: The man, the legend, Keld Jensen here today to talk to us all about Brexit. All right. I can't say that word without choking on a bit of laughter. Let's have a conversation around this, because this is a bit of a touchy subject. Let's be honest, there are a lot of people that are very passionate about this idea, regardless of what side of the table that you sit on. I don't want to make light of that. For the people that are listening to this that are like, I can't believe he's making light of this. Relax, we're not making light of the situation, but there have been some things that have been somewhat amusing from the outside looking in. And so those are the things that we want to discuss today and potentially what could have been done better. But let's talk first about what we were told was happening. First things first, Keld, the news that we received was that they achieved this agreement in record time and that they came out with an amazing deal. This is the UK saying this, Boris Johnson saying," Hey, we came out with an amazing deal and we achieved it in record time." Is that statement accurate?
Keld Jensen: Well, that depends on who you're asking. First and foremost, I would have to say, just to agree with you for a second. It's very important that when we discuss this, we're discussing the negotiation process. I'm actually not looking into whether the Brexit is right or wrong. I'm not looking into whether I agree or disagree. I'm not looking into whether it's the right or the wrong thing to do. I'm just looking at the process itself. It's like a surgeon, the patient died, but the surgery was perfect. It's basically the same thing. I'm looking into the process and I have to say, perhaps the outcome is great for both parties, who knows, but I'm just looking at, I feel the negotiation could have been done somewhat different. Back to your question, was it done in record time? Absolutely not. That is a ridiculous statement, not from you Mark, but just to take a step back. I actually, the reason I got into a whole thing here was I had a meeting with a former client of mine who is a former leader of a state and has been a high ranking officer of different international organization as well. And he came to me and said,"This is a political success. They have managed to reach this agreement in no time. It shows how well done it is and how good politicians are at negotiation." And I was basically quiet for about three days. And then I said,"Are you kidding me? This shows quite the opposite." Because we had a thing going on from 2016 and the deadline for everybody was established to be 31st of December 2020. That means four years later, five minutes to midnight, they managed to sign a deal. And we have to remember Obviously it's not an easy negotiation, Mark, I'm not sitting here and making fun of everybody saying," Oh, you should have done that in six minutes." That's not what I'm saying, but I'm saying actually what is going on throughout all of these years and having millions of millions of businesses not knowing what's going to happen in three weeks from now is actually not responsible behavior. When you're negotiating something this important, we're talking about a relationship agreement, you should talk about collaboration, partnership longterm, you have to do it so much better than what I witnessed was happening here in this process.
Mark: From the outside looking in, let's critique. Let's start with what they did well, what did they do well?
Keld Jensen: They reached an agreement. Now I do have people out there saying," Well, no agreement would have been better than a bad agreement." And that really depends. Yes, I would, to a certain degree agree that sometimes it's better not reaching an agreement and walking away without a contract, but there was actually a report. I forgot the name of the professor, but there was a professor at Stanford University here in the US that actually came out about two months ago and said," Even discussing a no deal is ridiculous. Even that both parties are potentially discussing that a no deal could be the outcome is completely ridiculous," he said, because nobody would win. Everybody would lose if there's a no deal. The parties would leave each other with no trade agreement, no nothing. They wouldn't even be able to probably do business with each other. Everything would be complicated. A no deal is actually not an option. What he pointed out and I'm so sorry I forgot his name because it was a brilliant article, but he actually pointed out, he was so right, that it is ridiculous that they are out in the media claiming that a no deal is a possibility. Back to your question, what was actually done well, they reached an agreement so I guess that was good.
Mark: You think that that was media jockeying, to utilize the media to potentially place pressure on the counterparty?
Keld Jensen: Oh yes. That's a very good point. And one of the things that I quite often tell my students in client is trying to avoid negotiating in the media. If you're sitting in a negotiation that has the interest of the public, it's never a great idea to negotiate in the media. And obviously Mark, you and I know that political negotiations is somewhat different than a commercial negotiation, but I honestly don't understand why, because if you're sitting in a political negotiation, you're sitting there to try and create the best possible negotiated deal, hopefully for both parties, but at least for yourself, hopefully. And you're definitely not doing that by bluffing, sending out a smokescreen, holding back information, creating distrust and halfway lying by going out in the media saying," Oh, this is tough. This is impossible. We may end up in a no deal." I honestly believe and this is just an assumption from my side, Mark. I honestly believe both parties knew all along that we have to reach an agreement. A no deal is not an option. When they are out that bluffing and threatening in the media, it is not supporting the relationship at all.
Mark: This is where I think the political negotiations and the business negotiations tend to be very different is that in my opinion, political negotiations are influenced by the politician's desire to get reelected.
Keld Jensen: Oh absolutely. You're absolutely right.
Mark: And so if the politician is making these claims, it's for the intent to strengthen his or her position with their constituents.
Keld Jensen: Absolutely.
Mark: Then will the constituents actually go in and do the work that you've done to do the research to determine whether or not this was actually a good deal?
Keld Jensen: Yep. I absolutely agree, Mark. And it is kind of interesting, isn't it? Could you imagine negotiating on behalf of your company and then you're returning to your management saying," This is difficult. It's very likely we're not going to reach an agreement." And you know that you are going to reach an agreement but just going to build up you as a hero afterwards, because you were telling everybody how tough it is. That is what sometimes is happening in public political negotiations.
Mark: Yeah. I find the whole thing to be just, I'm not a fan of politics and politicians in general, but I find the whole thing to be just very counterproductive in many, many cases. We're going to make a broad assumption that reaching a deal was beneficial because no deal would have been really, really bad for both parties. That's the great outcome of this negotiation. Let's say, for example, the good thing is that they've reached a deal. What could they have done better?
Keld Jensen: One of the things that I always find is important in a negotiation and I know this is tricky in this kind of negotiation, but only negotiate with somebody who got a mandate. You don't want to really negotiate with somebody who can't sign the deal at the end of the day. And on both sides, I'm not pointing fingers at anybody specifically, you had a level of different negotiators. One was coming in, another one was going out. In the beginning it was civil servants and then when it became more and more serious, then you suddenly had politicians stepping in. And when it became really serious at the end then it was the head of state that was stepping in. You have so many negotiators representing at the table. And one thing I'm always asking my counterpart when I'm sitting as an advisor for my client, the first question I'm asking the counterpart after I said hello is," Do you have the mandate to sign today's deal?" Because I want to negotiate if possible with somebody who got a mandate. And the problem is and I know it's a political world, but every time that the parties in this negotiation agreed something, they couldn't really promise that that was the case. They had to go back to the parliament. They had to go back to the EU commission and get the green light on the approval. And you saw that from the British side that they were shut down so many times. They actually made an agreement where there was shaking hands with EU, perhaps even signing the contract and the way back home to the parliament. And the parliament said," Are you crazy?" And there we are. It's really tough negotiating with somebody where you don't know they can actually go through with the deal.
Mark: For me, this is just a reflection of poor planning and getting the approval for their benchmarks and their ranges on what they can and cannot do upfront. All of that work should have been done upfront to build a proper plan, to be able to say," This is where we want to reach. This is what we want to do. And these issues, this is where we want to be. Can we get your approval to go and get this deal?" Obviously that wasn't done.
Keld Jensen: Yeah, absolutely. And again, people will come and criticize you and I right now, this talk and say,"Well, it is a very complicated negotiation so stuff happens." Yes, but when it's this important, you have to plan even better. As you were saying, Mark, all of this should have been taken care of, even before we're sitting at the conference table.
Mark: Agreed. They didn't have the right people at the table to be able to make those decisions and even the people that they did have, didn't have the right authority to be able to make decisions in general. What else should they have gotten better? What else should they have worked on? For me, I think we can easily dispel the sort of negotiating in the media. Obviously they could have done that better. I think that there were too many cooks in the kitchen. There were so many people from both parties, the EU and the UK, that were throwing in political jabs here and there that it's sullied and muddied the process. And if I was a leader, that's just me saying, if this was me. Now, this is just my opinion, listeners so take this with a grain of salt. But if I was the leader, if I was a Boris Johnson, for example, the mandate for me would have been, shut your mouth. You shut your mouth. You are not involved in the negotiation. You don't have a say in the negotiation, we will come to you if we need you. Shut your mouth. What do you think about that?
Keld Jensen: I completely agree. Could you imagine Mark, that you are heading your company and you're negotiating with me and at the same time I receive call from some of your associates calling and have their opinion about the whole negotiation process. That would not only confuse me, that will confuse you and it would confuse everybody. Yeah, I completely agree.
Mark: Hey listeners, I want to tell you about another company that I run called Content Callout. It is a thought leadership brand marketing company. Now, what does that mean? It means that we take you as an executive or entrepreneur, a leader of a small or medium size business and we turn you into a thought leader online. We take your personal brand and we amp it up to 11 so that you can lead with confidence, knowing that people will recognize you, recognize your brand and recognize your business because of the thought leadership approach that you've taken on social media, through content creation and content distribution, as well as engaging with all of your following online. How do you get involved in this? Easy, easy, easy, just go to contentcallout. com/ getstarted And you will see there three different options that will allow you to take your thought leadership brand for yourself and for your business to the next level. We are super excited to talk to you about this. We've seen some massive growth with the businesses that we've been working with. Very, very exciting time for us. Look at that, we appreciate it. Now back to your show. We were doing live coaching for the EU and the UK right now, folks. Listeners, if you're listening to this right now, we're doing live coaching. We've covered what they did well, which was get the agreement. We've covered a few things that they could have done better. Let's say they stay out of the media, too many cooks in the kitchen, get the mandate to be able to deliver what else could they have done better?
Keld Jensen: I think there was a knack of a negotiation strategy, to be honest. One of the things I over recommend my clients is that we basically need to negotiate on how to negotiate before we negotiate.
Mark: The planning process, right? That's it.
Keld Jensen: Exactly.
Mark: What are the rules of engagement?
Keld Jensen: Absolutely. What I mean by that is that different people perceive negotiation differently. And in this case, I actually had a great talk with gentleman by the name of Michael Gates, who was a professor at University of Oxford, an expert on culture, last week. And we talked about just the culture aspect in this negotiation where you have the British negotiating with EU predominantly dominated by French culture. You have the Brits and the French negotiating to talk to each other.
Mark: And there's no history there between the British and them.
Keld Jensen: There's Absolutely no history. We can look back to 1600 something and just look what happened there. There's no history whatsoever. What I'm saying is that the two parties obviously should have been sitting down before starting this whole negotiation and agreed on how we're going to negotiate? Are we going to be transparent and open? Which variables phases are we going to negotiate on? There's a long list of stuff we need to negotiate. Is it the northern Irish border, is that the key thing? What happened with the fishing opportunities? How do we compare that? We need to list all the variables and even put a value on it. And for me, what's interesting in political negotiations as well, Mark, is that sometimes they swap completely different variables. Just to explain to the listener, a variable to me is something that is negotiable. It could be price, delivery time, warehousing, whatever. In this case, they might be swapping saying," Well, you can only get fishing rights to this level, but then we want an open border to Northern Ireland." What have those two things got to do with each other? It doesn't make sense. We need to have a very strict negotiation strategy and have agreed on how we want to negotiate before we actually step into this whole process. If we don't do it and I see that in real life, it's not only EU and Britain who is messing this up. I see this in real life as well. If we don't do it properly, it's going to be a messy, messy things, because we're just all over.
Mark: Not only does it create a mess, but it also slows thing down and creates opportunities for conflict.
Keld Jensen: Absolutely. I completely agree.
Mark: Listeners, just so that you know, what Keld and I are sort of going back and forth on here is the idea that you have to have rules of engagement in something that's this complex, where there's so many different multiple parties involved, because if you don't do that, then what ends up happening is it just creates a situation that's rife for conflict and assumption. You start making assumptions about where the party's position is, what their interests are, what they want to achieve, what they don't want to achieve. And when you start doing that, it just becomes a complete mess. And in fact, I had a conversation, you might be interested in this Keld. I had a conversation with Mihai Isman, he's a negotiation guy based out of Germany. And we were talking about multiparty negotiations. And he was talking about a situation where he had a bunch of different agricultural people in the entire supply chain that were negotiating a new sort of multilateral agreement between a bunch of different countries, organizations, all the rest of them, he had to bring them together. And he said, the one thing that they had to do right away was actually deal with the conflict that existed between them, because there was a preexisting conflict that the relationship had been built on, essentially, that had to be dealt with. He had to go into mediation mode prior to even starting the negotiation and deal with that conflict first so that they could sort of actually have a productive conversation. Do you think that's something that would have worked here?
Keld Jensen: Obviously I don't know, but it makes sense. Everything you just said there makes absolute sense. No, in my world, that could be a way forward because you do have two parties here that not only have different negotiation styles, they also have different objectives obviously. And so that would make absolute sense to do something like that.
Mark: Is this a blueprint for other countries? If other countries are looking at this and they're saying," Okay UK, potentially we want to do what the UK did. We want to separate from our larger body." Whether it's the EU or something else when they look at this from the outside in, what advice would you, other than the things that they could have done differently, what advice would you give them about thinking through this problem before they even approach the problem?
Keld Jensen: I wouldn't have organized the negotiation very differently. I would have, as I said, negotiated how to negotiate, created a very clear strategy. I would have listed all the variables that is negotiable. I would have shared the variables with the counterpart. I would try to capitalize the value of the variables. And I know that could be tough in a political negotiation, but I don't believe it's not possible. And then I would prioritize them as well in saying," These ones, we have to figure out somehow how we can reach a deal on that." And then another very important part as a basic starter we're talking about Mark, that is time. I think time was so mismanaged in this negotiation. It's not professional ending it six days before deadline, when you had four years to do the whole thing. Obviously they didn't calculate that correctly. They could easily be done years before this deadline. It's so funny when you hear people saying that this negotiation was done so quickly. Okay, right.
Mark: Yeah. I find it interesting that the deal magically occurred once the deadline was agreed to.
Keld Jensen: Yes. You probably know the term, the ketchup effect in a negotiation. Back in the old days, when you could only get ketchup, I remember that back from Denmark, you could only buy kitchen in a glass bottle. And when you take the lid off that bottle and you're trying to get the ketchup out, nothing would happen. You're sitting there shaking the bottle and then you would find a knife or something and shovel the knife up and trying to get the ketchup out. And then what would happen once again, that you're punching the bottle. Now everything would happen. The ketchup would come out. It will be on the ceiling and the roof and on you and on me and everywhere. This is basically what I see is happening in a negotiation like this, they've been negotiating and negotiating and negotiating and negotiating. And suddenly somebody called them and said," You know what? You have five minutes left." And then you say," Oh shoot, Mark. Okay, let's wrap it up. We're done."
Mark: Where did that come from? Where did that deadline come from? Who agreed to it?
Keld Jensen: That's something they negotiated as well. They put the deadline on themself and there was actually originally several deadlines that then was expanded and postponed and delayed and stuff like that. But this one, there was another one they have agreed on and that was just they said,"This is the final one. If you can't reach one right here it's going to be a no deal."
Mark: I find the whole thing very confusing. Okay, so let's think about how we could apply this to the business landscape because that's where most of us operate within. Essentially listeners, we're talking about multiparty, multinational negotiations, multiple different countries. Multiple different countries and multiple different people. And when you're thinking about the strategy that's required and you're probably thinking to yourself right now, oh, that's a lot. That's a lot that we have to consider. And the answer to that is, yeah, you're right. It's a lot that you have to consider. It's a lot of strategy that has to go into it. A lot of planning that has to go into it. And clearly there were some things that were done on both sides, EU and UK, that weren't beneficial for either side or either perspective. And the things that you could learn from this are to make sure that you plan ahead of time, preparation and planning, which I feel like is something that I harp on all the time. It's really, really important. But also negotiate the negotiables. To Keld's point, what are the rules of engagement? Because we're coming in with different ideals, potentially different religions, different cultures, different backgrounds and even a shared history of conflict and negotiations that we need to address. What are the rules of engagement? How are we going to address each other? When is that going to happen? What's the frequency? How are we going to conduct our meetings? What are we going to discuss? How is it going to be discussed? All of that kind of stuff is super, super important to this level of strategic negotiation. I think the one thing for me that really stood out at all of this though, is make sure that everyone's on the same page internally before you approach the negotiation. Because as we've seen and as we discussed, you've got all of these multiple different parties that are negotiating with each other and then all of a sudden you get five other people that want to share their opinion on the same thing from either side. And that just really damages the progress that can or cannot be made in a negotiation, especially when that stuff is private, that they may have had conversations about internally, get shared in the media. And then you've got to start wondering about the loyalties that may exist within your own organization. Really, really, really make sure you read your team the riot act in terms of silence and making sure there's no backdoor selling. That's what we call that, backdoor selling, to the counterparty. Because I feel like that's critical. Keld, would you agree with that? Anything you want to add to that as sort of closing points?
Keld Jensen: No, I would completely agree. It must be so frustrating being the head negotiator and then you have 17 other negotiations going on at the same time. That would make most people that have a nervous breakdown. Well, the only other thing, back to what we basically touched upon very briefly before was to try and capitalize the variable and simply asking questions to the counterpart. If one side is saying," We want to put tax on medication, that's important to us to have that privilege." Normal question instead of saying," No, you can't do that," normal question would be," Why? What's the benefit to you? What is your interest?" Trying to understand the counterpart better. And when I've been following this negotiation and looking into all the paperwork, I see a lot of argumentation and I'm sure you have had experts on the show before saying that repeatedly, but listening. Ask question and listen to the counterpart instead of just arguing.
Mark: It appeared to be very positional, didn't it?
Keld Jensen: Yeah, very positional and we are in a time period right now, we can see that all over the world where we have a tendency to not listen. We argue and if you disagree, you're wrong. Really not listening to other people's opinion like we should. And that goes into this negotiation as well.
Mark: Yeah. Look, I feel like we could have an entire different show on the lack of listening that may exist today and how people's opinions are just because you share an opposite opinion by default, therefore you must be wrong. That whole ideology is just insanity to me because what ends up happening is there is no shared empathy anymore. There is no shared understanding anymore and there's no way to move the conversation forward. It becomes conflict immediately, as soon as the conversation begins. Just because I share it in a different opinion, which is scary. That's a scary trend that I'm seeing and you're seeing it too.
Keld Jensen: Yep, absolutely. I see it everywhere. It's not only the political system here in the US, I see the different governments in Europe and I see it even in a lot of commercial negotiation as well. People are really not listening. They're just saying," Oh, this is what we wanted. If you don't agree, you're wrong." And it's sad.
Mark: To that end, there is a book that I'd like all of the listeners to read if you get an opportunity, it's called Life or Death Listening and it's written by a hostage negotiator named Dan Oblinger. He's a wonderful guy. And it goes through this tactical listening, this empathetic listening that really helps you to understand the counterparty. If you feel like this is a skill that you want your team to improve or you wanted yourself to improve, go ahead and pick that book up, it's fantastic. Also do yourself a favor and go and pick up Keld's books. They are brilliant. If you ever want to improve your negotiation skills, that's a great place to start. Keld, final thoughts for the listeners today, before we close off?
Keld Jensen: Well, I think it's interesting for us to have the opportunity to study negotiation like this, because again, this is a international important trade agreement between two major organizations. But the takeaways that we can pick up from negotiation is that it's actually compatible, but every single negotiation that we have in our daily life. Because there just in a size, the mistakes are just in a size in this negotiation so they're so obvious and that makes it easy for us to step into there and criticize. But we can just copy paste and then try to avoid what we have identified, but we can learn a lot from that. And people might be saying," Well, this is an international political negotiation. That is not important for me. I'm just buying shares." No, everything they're doing wrong is something that you can learn from as well. I think that's an interesting process.
Mark: Well said, very well said. And to that end, listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. Keld, you're a wise man. I appreciate your conversation and the depth and insights that you get to. Thank you so much for being on.
Keld Jensen: Likewise, Mark, enjoy it. It's always fun.
Mark: Hey friends, thanks so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please share it with friends and colleagues so that they can benefit from it as well. If you find Negotiations Ninja podcast worthy, please go on to iTunes and give us a cool rating with a nice review. We certainly appreciate every single one that we get, because it helps us to understand who is listening, how they're listening and what it is they like. If there's something that you would like me to discuss around negotiation, influence or persuasion, give me a shout. You know how to reach me on social media or you can get me on my website, which is www. negotiations. ninja.