Watching the conversation between Presidents Obama and Putin at the UN yesterday through the lens of the fairly experienced negotiation coach and trainer, I couldn’t help but be struck by the vivid demonstration of the challenges to Win-Win. In my view, Putin emerged as the clear winner of this encounter, despite Obama’s obvious intelligence, empathy and deep grounding in the principles of the “Harvard method”.
Putin successfully pulled off several “Dirty Tricks of Power Negotiation” all at once: he impressively demonstrated the First Mover Advantage, cleverly Managed Information (keeping the other side in the dark until the last minute), ruthlessly applied Time Pressure, all resulting in an irrevocable Fait Accompli before the meeting even started. , and finally effectively executed the Power of Coalitions with Iraq, Syria and Iran (!) in advance. Not bad for one meeting.
Obama was caught flatfooted not only because he did not expect any of this, but also because he had no real concept of his own. Expounding on what is not acceptable is never as convincing as putting forward a proposal for what is. But more importantly, it is now painfully clear that two years of minimal communication have taken their toll. The fairly obvious Perceptions and Interests at the base of Putin’s iceberg remain woefully unaddressed. Surely there are ways to make the man feel respected and powerful, even relevant on the world stage, without ceding to his outrageous positions. The amateurish mistake of calling him the president of a “Regional Power” has not been forgotten.
Finally, body language really does speak a thousand words. The stiff and reluctant handshake, the deliberate lack of eye contact on both sides, even the unfortunate posing which accentuates the height difference: all these things serve to make the relationship even chillier. Where are the aides and handlers?
Lets hope Obama is getting good advice here. So much depends on it.