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When Interests Change at the Negotiating Table

Business Conflict Blog by Peter Phillips

Neither negotiation pundits nor political commentators seem very quick to pick up on an obvious fact of life: That, as negotiations continue, the underlying objective of the parties may change, and their interest may morph.

Say (just say) that the underlying interest of Negotiator A is to ensure that Negotiator B fails in the negotiation process. Say (just as a hypothetical) that A has not gone to great pains to conceal this interest and has even said: “The goal of my organization over the next two years is to ensure that B is gone as a negotiator in two years.”

I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with this strategy. If A has determined that he cannot achieve his goals while B is the negotiator on the other side, then it is pure logic that A’s primary goal must be to remove B as a negotiator.

What happens when that interest is stymied? What happens when B is re-instated, and there will be no further opportunity, ever, for A to remove B from his office as negotiator? Does A continue his goal of removing B? Of course not.

Changing circumstances yield not only changing tactics, but a change in fundamental interests as well. As the game continues, the players themselves change not only their tactics but their ultimate objectives.

Then who is to say that Congress and the President are back to Square One, at loggerheads and in deadlock? Perhaps the President can find out what Congress’ revised goals are. Maybe some of them — like creating jobs and being seen having done so — are even shared….

                        author

F. Peter Phillips

F. Peter Phillips is a commercial arbitrator and mediator with substantial experience providing consultation on the management of business disputes to companies around the globe. A cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College and a magna cum laude graduate of New York Law School, Mr. Phillips served for nearly ten years… MORE >

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