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In his campaign, Donald Trump has repeatedly touted his business acumen and negotiation skills as qualities that make him uniquely suited to be the next president. On top of this, Trump has claimed that “Right now, we have the wrong group of negotiators who have led us to being totally out-negotiated.”
There is no doubt that the next president of the United States will need to be an extremely effective negotiator. Armed conflict, political deadlock, and diplomatic crises abound. The president will be called upon to resolve the war in Syria; manage complex relationships with Russia and Iran; handle hot spots such as North Korea, Libya, and Ukraine; navigate competitive tensions with China; and manage differences within Congress.
Over the last year, Trump has mentioned his positions and negotiation approach in certain key complex issues around the world:
On Iran, Trump said that he would conclude the deal in a week. His strategy: Trump would make his positions known and walk away from the deal if his counterpart did not comply. If that approach failed, he would double up on sanctions until the Iranians returned and submitted to his demands.
On the Famous Wall, Trump would somehow compel the Mexican government to finance a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Regarding Israel-Palestine, Trump said to Rubio, that he would hammer out a deal that would bring an end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Observing his positions and interests, Trump’s tactics are aligned towards power, toughness, and dominance. In the world of Negotiation-Conflict models and typical behavior, we would classify Trump as part of the “Competing” quadrant, and one who follows the “I Win-You Lose” philosophy. The other philosophies include “Collaborating: I Win-You Win,” “Accommodating: You Win-I Lose,” “Avoiding: I Lose-You Lose” and “Compromising: I Win Some You Win Some or I Lose Some You Lose Some.”
Research in the conflict resolution field shows that a solely competitive approach to negotiation (Trump’s preferred style) often leads to stalemates, less than optimal or satisfying solutions, damaged relationships, low levels of trust, feelings of resentment, desire for vengeance, and sometimes even violence.
Something to note, over a long period of time, Trump has a successful track record of making favorable deals for himself and his businesses. To his credit, Trump has written a book titled Art of the Deal that explains the intricacies of making a successful deal for the commoners. According to Trump, “Deal is a Deal” irrespective of the subject, real estate or political.
However, a lot of negotiation experts and pundits say that there is a world of difference between negotiating a business deal and negotiating with a rebellious outfit or defiant partner in a war zone or in the midst of a hostile environment. This difference between buying real estate, for example, and ending wars, building coalitions, structuring global agreements, and balancing military and diplomatic leverage has potentially serious implications that depend on the kind of negotiator a president will be.
Going back to history, during the 1950s, the U.S. was trying to gain access to Mexico’s oil and natural gas reserves. Realizing that their counterpart desperately needed their technology, industrial know-how and investment capital, the U.S. opened the negotiation with a very low offer. That offer was considered so insulting that the Mexican government started to burn off its oil and natural gas rather than provide the U.S. access to its fields.
Come 2017, if a President Trump negotiates with Iran by putting forth his ultimatums and following his hardball tactics – will it help? Trump’s precondition for participating in a January Republican presidential debate on Fox News – demanding that moderator Megyn Kelly be removed – had a number of consequences, none of which helped his cause. The executives at Fox dug in their heels, Trump was forced to miss the debate, he lost to Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses three days later, and he had to admit that skipping the debate may have cost him the victory. Moreover, he showed up at the next Fox News debate, where Megyn Kelly was a moderator. Certainly it wouldn’t be that easy to invite Iran for a fresh discussion.
Next, imagine the scenario of a President Trump negotiating with Mexico to build a wall on the border and demanding the Mexican government pay for it. When he announced this plan during his campaign, there was a huge outcry in Mexico and unanimously they came out and made it clear that Mexico was never going to pay for such a wall. Trump’s response? “The wall just got 10 feet higher.” Even your most generous proposals may be rejected if accepting them will make the other side lose face. If a party loses badly and publicly, there is a sense of shame or embarrassment that will not bode well for the future. The next interaction will be even more challenging because it will not only be about the subject being negotiated, but also about personal revenge and retaliation.
Hardball tactics and providing ultimatums can work in achieving short-term interests, but they lack regard for the other party or any inclination to build a long-term relationship. We need to understand that effective negotiation requires not only strength and toughness, but also humility, empathy, and patience to find solutions, build and sustain coalitions, de-escalate conflict, and achieve your objectives.
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