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Postacademisch Onderwijs voor een Veerkrachtige Samenleving
AMID Young Professional

Negotiating: insights into often untransparent processes

Floris Wouters

On June 10 2022 Clingendael Institute provided the us, AMID trainees with a training on negotiation, specifically on negotiating between states. To be precise, a negotiation is a method to resolve a conflict of interest which requires an interaction between two or more parties. We addressed this in theory and practice.

In the morning the Clingendael lecturers taught us about the essential concepts for strategizing in negotiation, such as BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) and ZOPA (Zone Of Possible Agreement). They also explained to us the processes of negotiation. We also did the Thomas-Kilmann self-assessment, which gave insight into our own Conflict Handling Modes. It is worth analysing the different styles in which we approach such situations of conflict, because we all have our own "comfort zones" that influence own choices and behaviour. It is very useful for us to know what our comfort zones are, as they have a large impact on the choices we make in a negotiation, even if we are not aware of them. Below are the results of my assessment. I do not fully agree with them, as the practical afternoon also showed, but I scored high on collaborating and low on competing, so I guess the Development sector fits me.

Thomas-Kilmann assessment Floris Wouters


Multiparty Negotiations

In the afternoon is when the interactive fun started – this is when we were ‘practicing’ multiparty negotiations as if we were all in Brussels. First we were put to read the case, which was about negotiating after a conflict situation. Then we were put in breakout groups of around eight people each. Every person was assigned to be the negotiator of their own country – in my case I was representing Poland. On the agenda were six issues that had various negotiated outcomes, for instance how, by whom and in what timeframe evacuation of EU citizens should take place. We had to commonly decide on the outcomes. The catch was that these outcomes were connected to value points, ranging from +20 to -20 – and these were different, often very contrarious, between countries. It was our task to ensure that everyone ended up with at least 60 points. These value points were not to be discussed openly though.

Most of us were under the impression that these were integrative negotiations - a negotiation strategy in which the involved parties work together to find a solution that satisfies the needs and concerns of each. However, some of us had different ideas and approached this as a distributive negotiation - a competitive bargaining strategy in which one party gains only if the other party loses something. So whereas some people negotiated for common point sharing, with the goal in mind that everyone had to be awarded a minimum of points, others were ruthless sharks that wanted to get the highest scores possible for themselves. In our group we all made it through this negotiation dance with the minimum amount of points though. And not to brag, but, without being the sharkiest of sharks, Poland received most points – the best score for Poland out of all groups combined too. Key insights from my side: speak up a lot when you’re being disadvantaged and demand quid pro quo, and retreat to the background of the conversation when you’re being dealt free points. But still keep the goal of common satisfaction as an important condition for the outcome of the negotiations. Otherwise you lose on the longer term because, unlike these negotiations, you have to keep working with other countries in the future.

Whereas in media we often read about the outcomes of negotiations, we are not generally given any information about their procedures and content. Well I don’t know about you all, but I am now extra interested in how for instance the negotiations of the Grain Deal in Ukraine happens. This is the deal to ensure export of, among other crops, wheat in order to avoid food loss and to restore the grain market. The price of grain exploded after Russia and Ukraine’s huge crop export was cut off from the global market, due to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. In the end of October/beginning of November the deal between the UN, Ukraine and Russia, mediated by Türkiye, was unilaterally suspended by Russia due to an alleged attack by Ukraine. A few days later, Russia rejoined. Once again, the curtains are kept closed on the dynamics between negotiators and the interests and limitations they had to negotiate with given by their constituency. Were the negotiators competitive or accommodating? What were their BATNA’s and ZOPA’s? What happened in general?! We might, hopefully, find out in a few decades when it is ‘safe’ enough for the negotiators to talk about it.