Scratching backs

It’s negotiation, not nogotiation.

At the end of April the unbelievable happened: the leaders of North and South Korea met, shook hands, planted a tree, and had a cup of tea and a nice long chat. In full view of the media. It was both a puzzling and encouraging sight. It was also really long overdue – the two countries are technically still at war.

Wars rarely end abruptly with one side surrendering and the victor determining the terms. Normally, wars fizzle out towards an agreed cessation of hostilities. Then protracted negotiations normally form part of a peace settlement. The Korean War started in June 1950 and fighting ceased with an armistice signed on 27 July 1953. But there was no peace settlement.

The summit meeting on Friday 27 April was, hopefully,  the start of those negotiations.

Negotiation is a game – it has rules (many unwritten) and it has players. But it differs from most games in that when it ends all players need to have won, or at least feel they have.

This is as true for corporate boardrooms as it is for apartment bedrooms, because negotiation is not the reserve of commerce, politics and economics. It is central to everyday life and to coping with relationships. Negotiation is at the heart of decision-making, and central to its success is something counterintuitive: a win-win situation demands something be surrendered.

That’s because negotiation is about compromise. No party ever comes out of a successful negotiation with exactly what they wanted going in – that would be a simple agreement, or an issuing of a command.

Therefore, the secret to negotiating is knowing what your boundaries are, and thinking about them before the negotiation event. This means balancing possible futures – scenarios – not only your own but also the futures of the others in the negotiation.

The inter-Korean summit between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in was more a ceremonial event than actual detailed negotiations. Those will be done by senior government staff on both sides, and largely behind doors. They will know each other’s boundaries, consider various scenarios, and propose terms that, if agreed to, will reshape global geopolitics.

It will be an interesting game to watch.

[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes and on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 7 May 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]

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