Negotiating like a POTUS

Negotiating like a POTUS

At a recent event on negotiation in projects and major programmes, I was asked what the rest of us could learn from President Trump’s negotiating style.

One immediate drawback is the President of United States has options not available to the rest of us, most obviously enormous power. Even allowing for the personal style of the present incumbent, some things do not change. Talking about negotiation without mentioning power ignores a hard truth; what is the power balance in a given situation?

An overwhelming power imbalance used to make negotiation irrelevant: the bigger player crushed the smaller and moved on. Now there is disruptive power. Originally used to block, delay and divert, disrupters want more, demanding change. Amplified by social media and multiplied by a 24 hour news cycle always hungry for cheap input requiring minimal research and editing, disrupters are doing well.

Unpredictability has its uses. Unsettling your counterpart by changing or ignoring the rules forces constant re-assessment and re-calibration. Changing your mind in mid-flow could ultimately exasperate and infuriate, but if you are too big to ignore, and you want to win time, it is an option.

However, do take you own team with you, unless you really are a superhero who needs no-one. Baffling and perplexing the people you need to carry out your decisions may not end well.

What’s your timescale? Big, bold actions grab attention and simplify the situation. But living and working at full volume ignores the boring but necessary requirement to implement workable decisions, probably over a longer time period.

The present POTUS has given his views on the UK’s negotiation options in its present stalemate with itself and with Europe, including choice of chief negotiator. Maybe these would work for a superpower or in a straight bilateral battle, but are probably about 110 years out of date for the UK.        

As for the rest of us, let’s not ignore these options. Just remember we may be living and working with our counterparts for some time. And don’t forget the unique power of the POTUS.