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By Catherine Mehrtens

Associate Trainer, Rational Games, Inc.

What an exciting political autumn we are having in Germany, with both a Federal and two state elections on the same day! Given the complicated six-party system here, each associated with a color, there is now a myriad of combinations possible in each scenario to form a stable government.  Nationally, for instance, we are likely to have either a “traffic light” (Red, Yellow, Green) or also a “Jamaica” (Yellow, Black, Green) coalition as alternatives. Difficult choices indeed.

RGI is proud to serve as strategic advisors in these negotiations. This is stimulating and highly relevant work for us as negotiation consultants.

So far, here are our three lessons learned:

1) Preparation is Everything

The dizzying complexity of multiple policy areas and possible coalition constellations is indeed a challenge to any attempt at (analog) preparation. Still, we have managed to sort and prioritize these “building blocks” of win-win to see which discussions might be good to start with, which might break the deal, and which have the potential to increase the size of the pie through intelligent trading. And, of course, each block carries within it a range of potential offerings and must be examined for its ZOPA (zone of possible agreement) with each of the potential partners. And outside this positive landing zone, each party is always keenly aware of their best alternative (BATNA), which could mean another government coalition or simply sharpening the party profile in the opposition.

2) Trust and navigate the process

In these multi-party and multi-issue negotiations, the overall road map is essential, a guide that is ever-changing with new developments. Success calls for skillful facilitation of the negotiation process. This means mapping all internal and external negotiation stakeholders, at and away from the table, always gauging the quality of the relationship, as well as the level of trust, degree of transparency, and sources of power of each stakeholder. All of this enables a sequencing strategy to navigate the various rounds wisely, starting with the strongest opponent and the closest ally, but always with the best alternatives in mind.

3) Focus on common interests and “building bridges” first

Before tackling conflicting interests, we focused on discovering common ground. As we explore each other’s “icebergs” what interests might unexpectedly turn out to be aligned?  Why are we all here, persevering even when things become difficult, and how do we create some “glue in the room”? Strategically, we always have the choice of either using these shared interests to strengthen the relationship or, alternatively, to trade as levers.  What is important for your negotiation partner that is easy, low-risk, and cheap for you? What small effort can you bring to the negotiation table that could have a large effect on the other party and vice versa?  Many flowers of all colors can bloom if the negotiation field is first tilled creatively in such a manner.

Comments welcome!


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