We negotiate throughout our lives.
We first learn to negotiate by simply imitating adults and then continue by somehow automatically developing our own patterns and approaches. The measure of our accomplishment is in how we succeed in daily life and manage its endless activities.
If this approach works well – even if we learned it unconsciously – we have to learn and train in negotiating skills to be able to fulfill tasks better in practically all working environments. When speaking of diplomats and those involved in foreign policy and international relations – bureaucrats and experts in particular – negotiations training is a must.
The type of training depends on the different vertical and horizontal positions within a given institution that a person holds, their experience, age, and education, as well as the nature of the organisation, its social context, and the broader environment in which it operates. From another point of view it depends on the characteristics of the institutions and the person, as well as the ambitions and goals of the other negotiating side. Part of this information is known in advance, while part of it is acquired during the process.
Negotiating training has to take into account all these various aspects, keeping in mind whether the training serves the general education of participants or is target-oriented. In the latter case, a specific social context will stand out, in particular the cultural background of participants. What defines them also dictates how they approach negotiations and in what kind of social and cultural form. This complex and dynamic negotiating matrix could also serve as a basis for negotiations training planning, structure, and time frame.
Alongside existing well-elaborated approaches, methods, and techniques, the general lines and details of different social contexts should also be kept in mind. Sometimes it is difficult to overcome them.
For example, when the two sides come from different cultural and religious environments, it is not possible to have a glass of wine or whiskey or to tell a joke during a break when the two sides relax (and often they do this jointly, also as a commonly accepted negotiation approach). Or perhaps it might be the other way around: when drinking wine would fit the context but one side declines categorically to imbibe. It is difficult to train people in the skills they need to overcome such a variety of problems. And they do appear.
Following the rules and going by the book is one side of the negotiating coin. The other side should leave room for creativity and improvisation. As a matter of fact, to be able to adapt to the issue with creativity and improvisation is a must. We need to react when the other side goes against logic and behaves totally unexpectedly (on purpose, of course) or when our side wants to achieve the same effect. This must be taught as well, but not too much, since improvisation should remain what it is.
To wrap up: Negotiations training is a must for everybody involved in the business of diplomacy. But this should not bind and tether the person involved within a strict negotiation framework. The negotiation process consists of well-defined rules from one point of view and an open area where the actor follows their feeling as to how to tackle the issue. Here, there must be enough space for improvisation and creativity. Last but not least, it is a given social context that defines the selection of negotiation approach, its methods, and also the way and substance of improvisation.
Although existing technology offers numerous types of negotiations training, it is – or it should be – the human factor that has the last word. Otherwise we end up with negotiating machines that are cut off whenever a single negotiator on the other side uses an approach and technique that goes against logic.
Guest blogger: Dr Milan Jazbec is Professor of Diplomacy at the University of Ljubljana. He was the Slovene Ambassador to Turkey (2010–2015), accredited also to Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. He is employed at the Slovene Ministry of Foreign Affairs and teaches diplomacy at the Graduate School of Governmental and European Studies, Kranj. He is the author of fifteen books on diplomacy (in four languages) as well as more than one hundred articles on this and related topics.