The Art of Negotation

Susan Schwab: Knowing when to walk away from a deal is frequently harder than closing a deal. . . . So this was a really serious trade negotiation, and President Bush and this other country's leader were going to be meeting in 72 hours, and we had around-the-clock negotiations.  We were trying to reach an agreement.  It was very public, and everyone knew this negotiation was going on.  And the guy I was negotiating with, my negotiating counterpart, was a really good guy, but I didn't know whether he could deliver and he didn't know whether I could deliver, and it was pretty stressful.  

And we had negotiated almost for 48 hours straight.  And we kept negotiating, and our staffs were negotiating--we would take a break and the staffs would get together--and we got to a point like six hours before the two leaders were going to meet, so it was like 2:00 in the morning . . . and the deal fell apart.  We agreed that we just weren't going to be able to pull it together and we were going to have to face our respective leaders in five hours and brief them on the fact that we had failed to pull the deal together, and it wasn't going to be pretty because it was going to be public--the fact that we weren't able to pull this deal together.

So at 3 o’clock in the morning we parted company and did so on sort of sad but warm terms, as opposed to a blow up.  And under these circumstances the sort of political pressure cooker was as high as it gets.  It was a very tense and stressful next day. . . . And six months later we closed the deal.  

I don't know how it would have played out if we had blown up, if—and but, you know, my counterpart also didn't blow things up.  And he was male.  You have to work under those circumstances when you're in that kind of a pressure cooker, you have to work to make sure that you don't have personalities that are going to end up in a scorched earth kind of outcome because you have to come together and figure out how you're going to make these things work ultimately.  

You know, one could argue that's a female attribute or it's a softer negotiating attribute.  It's a recognition that if the deal doesn't come together this time . . . if you're going to have a hissy fit during a negotiation--and I've had those during the course of a negotiation because sometimes as a leader, as a manager, you have to have a slightly theatrical event to get a point across, but--you need to do it in a way that doesn't break crockery or doesn't burn bridges because these are generally people that, whether it's your staff, you know, whether it's your subordinates or your negotiating counterparts or someone else's negotiating counterparts, you want to be able to continue doing business with these folks again.  You just never know.  

Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd



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