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By Jill Tanamal

Associate Trainer, Rational Games, Inc.

Picture a single table filled with representatives from 36 countries and international organizations, all from different cultures and all with different agendas. One of them is the appointed host. Now add 10 different issues, not the least of which is logistics, and complicated home fronts behind each party. What you get is not one conversation but more than 500 interconnected negotiations over a grueling 5 month period. Welcome to the G20 Summit in Hamburg.

As a member of the organizing team for this event, I came away with three big lessons about negotiation on this scale:

  1. The importance of ground rules. This started in one of the many preparatory meetings, with all delegations making advance trips to Hamburg. While the atmosphere here was pleasant and noncommittal, it was already clear what a wide variety of agendas was to come. And the only way to manage the process was for the host to first successfully negotiate a serious of ground rules: the program, the transport arrangements, security and access rules (what about private planes?), deadlines, and much more.

  1. Intra-Delegation negotiation is just as complex. Each party at the table had a representative and liaison (POC), but behind that representative was a vast array of interested parties from the home front: various government ministries, lobbyists, and other interested parties, all with competing (and shifting) interests, some voiced more loudly than others. Some parties were on-site in Hamburg, others back in the home country but following progress closely from afar. A true mediation challenge for the representative of each delegation!

  1. Multilateral negotiation has its own “music”. The dynamics of this process were fascinating to experience. Just as in a symphony, things started slow, at a courtly pace, with periods of inactivity interspersed with surprise developments. The fulminant finale, driven by the impending deadline, was as exciting as the crashing cymbals of any orchestra.

And through all that, the negotiation “conductor” needs to know and feel which topics to escalate, and which issues need to be kept contained. She must ensure that all lines of communication remain open, between and within delegations, keeping everyone informed but also limiting information to allow for flexibility.

Finally, there are emotions to manage, with everyone on edge at the end of the 5 month marathon.

Quite an experience! Comments welcome.


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