To Negotiate Successfully Maintain Credibility

When you negotiate, maintain integrity by maintaining credibility. Maintain credibility by being consistent. How then do you maintain credibility when you have to alter a critical position that you’ve adopted, without losing the consistency of your credibility?

Let’s examine the negotiations that recently occurred between the U.S. and North Korean governments, which led to the release of two U.S. journalists the North Korean government was holding. (Note: Officially, the negotiations occurred between a private U.S. citizen that happened to be a former President of the U.S. and the North Korean government.)

  1. The U.S. and North Korean governments have had tense relations for years. Most recently, nuclear testing conducted by the North Korean government has intensified the tenuous relationship between the two governments. The North Korean government has attempted on many occasions to get the U.S. government to negotiate on a one-on-one basis and has sought leverage to do so.
  2. Approximately 5 months prior to this writing, the North Korean government jailed Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two U.S. journalists. Both were sentenced to 12 years hard labor for what appeared to be, innocently crossing the border and entering into North Korea.
  3. The U.S., having adopted a position that states the North Korean government has to abandon its nuclear program before any formal negotiations can occur, has placed itself in a position that would not allow direct talks to occur for the release of the journalists.

Given the scenario above, the U.S. appeared to be ‘boxed in’. In reality, the strategies employed by the U.S. were negotiation mastery. Here’s a synopsis of the negotiation strategy employed by both governments.

  1. In capturing the journalists, the North Korean government gained a small amount of leverage. That government then handed down a considerably harsh sentence in accordance to the reported crime, thus gaining additional leverage. They gained the additional leverage in the form of emotional stress placed upon the citizenry of the U.S. This act increased the pressure on the U.S. government and gave the North Korean government even more leverage.
    1. When you negotiate, seek pressure points that you can exploit that will move the other negotiator towards a position that is favorable to the outcome you seek.
    2. The North Korean government was not interested in the U.S. journalists. The government used the journalists as leverage (or a red herring – something that has value to the other negotiator, but possess no, or small amount of value to you).
  2. The U.S. had stated it would not negotiate with the North Koreans as the result of nuclear tests that North Korea had performed. Thus, the U.S. needed a surrogate(s) to negotiate on its behalf.
    1. The U.S. delinked its nuclear position from that of the journalists. In doing so, the U.S. decoupled the two points and addressed the journalists situation as a separate issue. (When negotiating, seek ways to separate major issues into parts that are more manageable.)
    2. The U.S. sought someone that had a vast amount of experience negotiating in world matters and was arguably respected on the world stage. The U.S. turned to former President Clinton. In so doing, the U.S. could officially state that it was not negotiating with the North Korean government, while at the same time offering someone of such prominence that the North Korean government’s felt it was being taken serious. (What was the North Korean government seeking? It sought attention that would make it feel ‘important’. When you negotiate, stroke the ego of the other negotiator and strive to fulfill her needs.)
  3. As the result of sending former President Clinton to North Korea, the U.S. received ‘spillover benefits’ in this negotiation.
    1. a. By sending a surrogate that had such a vast amount of experience, the U.S. gained a ‘first hand’ glimpse into the ‘behind the scene occurrences’ in North Korea. That information can be very valuable to the U.S. in future negotiations between the two governments.

What did the U.S. really give up in return for getting the journalists back? More than likely, it was nothing more than a photo opt and the perception of respect for the North Koreans, as perceived by the North Koreans. On this point, perception becomes reality in the mind of the perceiver. In return, the U.S. defused a tenuous situation that can open doors for future negotiations.

If you use some of the strategies that occurred in the exchange between the U.S. and North Korean governments, you can also achieve positive outcomes … and everything will be right with the world.

The Negotiation Tips Are …

  • When negotiations are at a critical point, control the flow of information and limit the number of external influence. By controlling the flow of information and limiting those that have access to it, you decrease the risk of losing control of the negotiation and forfeiting the gains you’ve achieved.
  • When you’ve reached an impasse in a negotiation, seek ways to give the other negotiator a way to perceive he’s won a point of contention. Make sure you receive something in return.
  • When negotiating, consistency will gain you credibility. When it doesn’t benefit you to alter the course of a negotiation, by altering a critical point that you’ve stood fast on, allow someone else to negotiate on your behalf for the outcome you seek.
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