What negotiation techniques are at play between the US and Iran, and what can the world of business learn from them? Comments by Tony Hughes, CEO at global skills development company, Huthwaite International, which, over the past 20 years, has trained senior negotiation professionals across the globe. New sanctions from the US could mean that any businesses dealing with Iran could be penalised when accessing trade with the US. According to Donald Trump’s most recent announcement, these new sanctions promise to be ‘the most biting ever imposed’ and are set to ‘rachet up to yet another level’ with embargos on Iranian oil and blanket restrictions across Iranian banks scheduled for November.
Combined with the fact the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is now dead in the water, Europe is predictably up in arms and, together with the United Nations, is rejecting instructions from the White House. With such turmoil it’s hard to predict what the result of said sanctions will be.
Why has Trump seemingly irritated his European allies with blanket sanctions? And why has he abandoned a program designed to reduce the threat of developing nuclear weapons from Iran? Is it a case of ‘the President’s lost his mind’ or are there strategic and beneficial reasons that quantify such action?
The importance of preparation and planning
In any skilled negotiation, preparation and planning are key – one assumption or poor move and you could find yourself back to square one. On the face of it at least Trump is treading a very fine line, risking not only conflict with Iran, but also compromising his international relationships, especially in China and Europe.
In business, it’s important to have a plan of action when negotiating a complex deal. First and foremost, that means researching the deal in hand; who are you negotiating with and what is of most value to them? This involves everything from assessing verbal behaviours to cultural considerations, and being acutely aware of how any actions will be perceived by all stakeholders.
Trump risks appearing unreasonable in his rhetoric. Skilled negotiators take care to ensure the messages they send out are the same messages received. Many eastern cultures – especially China – place great importance in showing humility and respect to elders or people with higher titles or status. This cannot be ignored if you’re looking for a win-win outcome to your negotiation.
Respect and humility are words not readily associated with the Trump regime and the fact that China has major investments in both the US and Iran, makes it not only a key stakeholder but one likely to feel irritated by the sanctions.
You can be defiant if you hold all the power, are prepared to act out your threats and don’t care about the relationship. And if that’s the case, there isn’t a negotiation, only a dictatum.
The message from Trump, intended or not, is he doesn’t really care about his relationships outside the US. And while his approach may indeed resolve some issues with Iran, it is currently risking creating many other knock-on issues globally, especially as this is all playing out on a world stage where every dictatorship and those with nuclear ambitions are watching and assessing what will happen next.
What if the plan fails?
It seems that any plan to preserve the relationship with Iran in the interests of a good deal has failed. On the face of it at least, this is a classic case of negotiation gone wrong. Trump has taken a bold approach, using a ‘power play’ for which he is now famed for, to create an advantageous position for himself with no regard for a win-win outcome - win-win being the bedrock of successful negotiation. With Europe and the United Nations openly labelling the sanctions as ‘regrettable’ – not to mention potential trade issues with China on the horizon what could Trump do to get things back on track?
Keys to a successful negotiation
The key thing would be to re-consider his approach with Iran and head back to basics. This could be to reassess what he’s looking to achieve from the sanctions – and perhaps more importantly, what impact this will have on his other international relationships – think China, Europe and other leading global powers.
Trump needs to flip the narrative, and focus his commentary on what mutually beneficial agreements can be made with Iran, away from any other politically provocative conversations.
It is vital that the language and verbal behaviour used from here on remains nuanced, open and flexible in order to create the positive climate a successful negotiation needs. In simple terms – his behaviour so far is akin to setting up a business deal, and then deliberately irritating the individual you’re looking to negotiate with ahead of the final signature. It’s counterproductive and places the negotiation at risk.
Rather than creating an opportunity for conflict, Trump can open more opportunities to negotiate with careful and strategic negotiation techniques.
What can we expect next?
As ever with the headline-grabbing politics of Trump, there is more going on than meets the eye. Love him or loathe him, the President is a natural born deal maker, and many of his ‘lost his mind’ moments are about securing leverage, and improving his negotiation position in other areas – in this case, perhaps in other countries.
However, his road to negotiation success is to re-group, consider the new circumstances, re-focus on the negotiation priorities for Iran and the knock-on deals this will impact and press ahead with a strategic, considered and focused negotiation stance.
Failing to do so would see the President taking one step forward, and two steps back towards an outcome that doesn’t bear thinking about.
Successful outcomes to important negotiations are not achieved through brash behaviour. They’re built on a diplomatic, considered and strategic approach.