Lesson in Negotiation: The Congress of Vienna

Fredrik Stanton: The Congress of Vienna was sort of an all-star negotiating event. It was the first major get-together of all of the heads of Europe. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Europe had been turned totally upside down by Napoleon. And the heads of Europe got together to redraw the borders. France, of course, had just been defeated and France’s Foreign Minister was able to pull off one of the greatest negotiating upsets in history by using a division between the victorious allies to reinsert himself as a major player and secure France’s stature on the world stage.

Often a weaker party can capitalize on divisions or differences of interest between the other counter parties. What the French Foreign Minister did, and something we can use and take advantage of in our everyday lives, is he saw that the other people across the table had different interests from each other. And when their division became apparent, he realized that he could throw his weight to one side or the other and tip the balance in their favor. That gave him tremendous leverage, which he used to his advantage.

Question: What lesson does this teach us about everyday negotiations?

Fredrik Stanton: if there’s a division, and you see this in politics occasionally as well, the person who throws their weight and tips the balance gets a great deal of power. And even someone who starts out at a disadvantage can multiply their leverage that way.

Generally the last Congressman or Senator to sign onto a vote that’s very close to passing is able to get all sorts of benefits and goodies out of it because his vote become the necessary vote to cross the line. You see that all the time. 

Question: So does it make sense to hold out as long as possible during negotiations?

Fredrik Stanton: Some people think that you should. That the smart ploy is to wait until the very last moment, until they really need your vote before making your move. So, if that’s your game, then sure.

Recorded January 18,2011
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd

The post-Napoleonic 1814 meeting of Europe's heads of state provides a case study of exploiting divisions among your opponents during any sort of negotiation.

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