Win win or no deal

Since starting my first business at fifteen I have enjoyed many business audio books from the infamous Jim Collins, From Good to Great through to more recently 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Some are really enjoyable missives which I can proudly say I have listened to countless times as I pound the London pavements trying to get fit. I try to stay clear from autobiographies especially those who are ‘business successes’ and instead dwell on the research backed books that focus on success over a period of time.

One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is that the art of a good deal is basically two outcomes. Win/win, which means both parties leave with what would be considered a win and the other option, no deal. Now that doesn’t mean the same as is being discussed in terms of no deal Brexit but I will come to that in a minute.

The art of negotiation is to realise that actually not doing a deal, walking away, is just a good a solution as a win/win scenario. What people seem to forget however is that this is an option and a viable one. Most people, certainly in the world of business, view a negotiation as a win/loose outcome. Surely in any negotiation there are winners and losers? Well not if you listen to the experts, and by those I mean highly successful businesses with a track record of success. They realise that for repeat business, ongoing support, reputation and so forth then getting a win/win negotiation is the only outcome if a deal is done. Anything less than that means everyone looses, and that just isn’t good business.

It might be something to do with egos in business and even politics for that matter, that when you negotiate you are out to win and really if the other side sees a benefit or not doesn’t really matter – as long as you win. Certainly in my own life I have always been prepared to walk away from any negotiation and I am keen to understand, right from the outset, what my options are for not doing a deal. My personal motivation is wanting to sleep well at night, but looking back on the negotiations I have had there have certainly been situations where you lead the horse to water, as the saying goes, you can’t force it to drink. In that outcome not proceeding with a deal has always been a good choice and while regretful a deal is not done, nothing time can’t heal. However in most circumstances the willingness to walk away helps makes a win/win deal happen.

Now coming back to Brexit and the first few days of our new Prime Minister I am dismayed by the will of Parliament and many conservatives at trying to scupper what has to be one of the most important negotiations for a generation. Whether you are remain or leave you have to agree that when negotiating you need every option open to you and while the desire to do a win/win deal is overpowering with Europe, you have to have the option of no deal. Otherwise the only other option is win/loose. Now I appreciate that a ‘no deal Brexit’ is slightly more nuclear than the other ‘no deal’ version which is to leave us in Europe as we currently are. But as the European elections showed there is still huge support for leave, and I have been surprised at the number of remainers who I have spoken to who would now vote leave if they were given the option again.

I suspect, while the country is suffering under the impasse, the original vote has not had the visible impact on our economy that was predicted. And the more the establishment pressure against leave the more the people want it. Certainly you can’t trust the polls and reports on the cost of Brexit when the very same people said Britain would be a despot if it voted leave all those years ago. Certainly timing has helped with the global economy seeing record levels of growth over the past few years and of course should we hit recession it can and will be blamed on Brexit.

But coming back to my point on a negotiation the desire to have a win/win is huge. I read that just the Netherlands was looking at the thick end of €30 bn should Britain leave without a deal. And that number doesn’t include the countries that you would expect to see such a huge number from like Italy, Spain, France and Germany. So my belief is the only option is for a win/win if Europe is going to contain the businesses of its member states. Certainly the aid being talked about to Ireland if there was a no deal Brexit is not able to be replicated across Europe.

But the reality is to make a win/win work you near the full hand of options available, such as no deal, to help push through negotiations. Ironically the parliamentarians are making the likelihood of a bad deal more likely by taking away the only leverage we have. And if you read the latest news certainly the current rhetoric is starting to shift the mood in the EU in actually engaging on making a deal that works.

1 Comment

  • Ian Goodwin says:

    Piers! I’ve just found your blog precisely because I was wondering what your point of view on Brexit might be. I’m kidding, I had strong suspicions on that subject. I think when it comes to negotiations it’s important to understand what the motivations of the folks you are negotiating with might be. Daniel Finkelstein wrote a really interesting editorial in The Times this week, he predicted as a remainer what would happen in the next 5 to 10 years what would happen if the UK left with no deal. He was prepared to admit he was wrong if it failed to materialise. Would you like to do the same thing and make a few predictions you’re prepared to stand by? I hope you and your family are all well.

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