Coalition Horse Trading

Being English, I’ve really only ever known majority government. Throughout my life it’s swung left and right, red or blue. Yet now as practically every tv station on the planet has covered, times they are a changing. Knock-knock hung parliament, hello coalition.

It has been fascinating to watch the consequent goings on over the past few days. I was delighted to see a high calibre solution selling tactic deployed.

Leaving aside the specific bargaining stances, the blues and yellows immediately appointed two negotiating teams. Heart-warmingly, they consisted of four negotiators apiece.

I was given a drubbing in a meeting as recently as November by someone about to embark on a key negotiation meeting. I asked how they’d prepared for such a big pow-wow. Of course, I uncovered that they hadn’t prepared. Despite assurances to the contrary, their efforts ultimately floundered. I gleaned little comfort from vindication as shamefully it was an opportunity lost.

The value of the negotiation ran to several hundred thousand dollars. One of my main points of advice was that a 4-strong team should be constructed. My experience fell on deaf ears. There’s no telling some people.

And what do you know? Both the UK’s Conservatives and Liberals created a 4-strong team. I await reading about how they were run, in the meantime, here’s how I’ve always advocated setting up a negotiating team with the following roles:

Starts proceedings, makes all offers, justifies all arguments.

Detailed notes of everything; offers, currency counts, response.

Focuses on what is agreed and what remains on the table.

Says nothing inside, everything outside. The Strategy expert.

(note that the roles of Recorder & Summariser can be combined)

It takes incredible discipline to stick to these responsibilities but the rewards can be monumental. Interestingly, the most senior person tends to play the Observer role, but ego can dictate that they instead assume the role of Leader. I’ve found that junior people can pull off being Leader with aplomb. Note too, that in what’s just transpired in Westminster, neither party leader was directly involved in the face-to-face negotiations.  Another killer pointer.

(as a postscript, initial reports suggest roles were clearly defined in the negotiations – for instance Hague & Huhne were the top-line policy directors, Letwin & Alexander were the detail guys)

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