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By Steven G. Mehta

How do you negotiate the Israel-Palestine problem?  What about North Korea?  Well a recent book by Stuart Diamond, Professor at the Wharton School and Author of  ‘Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in The Real World’ highlights methods of how to negotiate in real life situations, including that problem and more.  Professor Diamond explains some of these principles in his recent article.  He explains some of the principles as follows.  I thought of particular interest was his discussion on North Korea:

North Korea. But for poor negotiation quality by the U.S. and South Korea, the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons would likely have been solved long ago. Of course the North Korean president won’t give up his nuclear weapons. The U.S. called him an axis of evil and threatened unilateral military action. The combination of economic sanctions and threats just stiffens their resolve.

And yet, almost every time the U.S. and South Korea have made collaborative overtures to North Korea, the North has reopened talks, released prisoners and suggested that peace might be possible. There has even been talk about unification of the Koreas. Indications are that for a rapprochement with the international community, North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons program. There is precedent for this, with Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union.

What needs to happen is a mediated negotiation process by people with process skill. The process would be endorsed by the United States, China and the two Koreas. Dredging up the past will simply prolong the armed struggle. The focus must be on the future. The people who want to fight over yesterday should not be involved in this negotiation process, because they will cause it to fail. The past is unchangeable and people usually don’t accept blame unless forced to. Effective negotiation is about making tomorrow better.

  • A Process For Change. Each of these areas needs a similar kind of process. First, all the parties need to start meeting and getting to know each other. The varying perceptions need to be communicated and understood. The parties need to understand each other as individuals, whether or not they have been historical enemies. This is the start of effective negotiations.

The parties need to forget the past and start moving incrementally toward solutions that are fair and which meet each other’s needs based on the future. Third, the main considerations need to be economic: that is, improving the standard of living for the most people through joint collaboration. It needs to start with investment, not politics or religion. The problems to be tackled first are those that are either easiest to solve or which generate the least controversy: health care, education jobs. As success occurs, this will bring the parties closer together.

Professor Diamond’s concepts are very interesting and apply to mediations of all types.  For example, his comment regarding the North Koreans not responding to threats bears considering in mediation.  Most times, when threats come in mediations — whether directly or indirectly — they are not well taken.  In one case, a party made a statement that certain things have not been reported to a government agency, but they may if we don’t resolve the case.  The other side interpreted the statement as a veiled threat.  The negotiations no longer became negotiations, but instead an interrogation of “are you threatening me?”  People, whether it be the leader of North Korea, or people in civil disputes don’t respond to threats.

Second, Professor Diamond explains that people don’t usually accept blame unless forced to.  In every day life, if we focus on blame, we focus on the past; and focusing on the past is bad for Korea, and also for mediations.  Just as Professor Diamond explains, focusing on the future is the better model.

This brings me to the last point Professor Diamond Makes.  The process for change.  His first point is that both sides must understand the perceptions of the other side.  In mediation also, people need to understand the perspective of the other side.  They don’t need to agree, but they need to understand.  Inevitably, the first few hours of a mediation are critical in serving that very purpose — allowing each side to understand.  However, if too much time is spent on this issue, then the parties will focus too much on the past.  So at some point the parties need to focus themselves on the future and the resolution, rather than the past and the problems.

Finally, as Professor Diamond explains, the process for change is incremental.  Many people expect that with well established and long standing positions that change will happen in a few moves.  They don’t.  Change, just like Rome, wasn’t Built in a day.  As long as the parties see some progress, seeing the ultimate conclusion is not necessary.

To read the rest of his article, The Cost of Not Negotiating, click here

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