The Art of Negotiation 162

I believe this is extremely important, but having been published a few hours before the Manchester explosions, may have missed its audience:

Theresa May performed atrociously on her interview with Andrew Neil this evening. She was patently evading or lying on every question, and as usual repeating key phrases again and again whatever she was asked. I do not think I am naïve to believe this does seriously underestimate the intelligence of the electorate.

I thought that Andrew Neil did very well. He was unusually gentle with May – he interrupted her only three times in thirty minutes, and I am willing to bet will interrupt other leaders more. But his technique worked with May, because it gave her room again and again to trot out those robotic phrases and hack off the entire nation. Whether intentional by Neil or not, she used the rope he gave her to hang herself.

Twitter thinks she did very badly by about thirteen to one. Even Tories are saying so. And I think this is the strongest proof of what people really thought:

BUT not that many people will have watched. Far more people will see news reports of the interview than saw the actual interview, and those reports will give a very different impression to the reality. Nicola Sturgeon was viewed by those who saw the full Scottish leaders’ debate as having won, but all the news bulletins merely say she was monstered by the specially planted nurse, who was on Question Time last week and was specifically invited back by the BBC. Mmay will not have been pathetic when the News reports it.

It is a fact that in all opinion polls for the last week, Labour is doing better than their performance in the 2015 General election. They will have more voters. Yet the BBC continues to produce “vox pops” in the news, which they pass off as representative, interviewing Labour voters who are converting to Tory. Of five “ordinary” voters the BBC showed in a vox pop interview from Middlesborough today, one of the five was definitely switching from Labour to Tory, and another one was “probably” going to switch from Labour to Tory which was a “game changer”. The journalist concluded the Labour Party was struggling to hang on.

But that is not what the opinion polls tell us. The Labour vote is growing not falling, and the Tory vote is indeed growing, but mostly by transfers from UKIP, not by transfers from Labour. The BBC “vox pop” gives a deliberately false impression of what is happening. There is so much they do not tell us. How did the BBC find and contact these people who are switching from Labour to Tory? How many random people did they interview? What percentage of random people they interviewed were switching to Tory, and how did they select their sample? Did they find not one person who was switching to Labour – because the polls show that people are?

This blatant and undisguised propaganda continues all day every day. Fortunately even the most sophisticated propaganda has difficulty selling ordure as birthday cake. Every time May appears, the smell is deterring buyers. How they will hide her still further for the rest of the campaign, will be fascinating to behold.

ORIGINAL POST Look at this astonishing body language from Theresa May when confronting mild contradiction.

Note the tight lines of the mouth, the eyes darting from side to side as if seeking assistance or escape, the apparently involuntary small head movements signalling disengagement, which eventually develop into vigorous head-shaking. And that is just the body language. As ever, Theresa May was in a hall containing nobody except vetted senior Tory activists and mainstream media representatives. And yet, at six minutes in below, even that audience starts audibly jeering and dissenting.

All of which underlines a thought that has been pulling at me ever since the election started. May has continually tried to pitch this as a question of who you would wish to act as the negotiator of Brexit, either her or Jeremy Corbyn. But why would anybody believe that a woman who is not even capable to debate with her opponents would be a good negotiator?

In fact she would be an appalling negotiator. She becomes completely closed off when contradicted. She is incapable of thinking on her feet. She is undoubtedly the worst performer at Prime Minister’s Questions, either for government or opposition, since they were first broadcast. Why on earth would anybody think she would be a good negotiator? As soon as Michel Barnier made a point she was not expecting across the table, she would switch off and revert to cliché, and probably give off a great deal of hostility too.

The delusion she would negotiate well has been fed by the media employing all kinds of completely inappropriate metaphors for the Brexit negotiations. From metaphors of waging war to metaphors of playing poker, they all characterise the process as binary and aggressive.

In fact – and I speak as somebody who has undertaken very serious international negotiations, including of the UK maritime boundaries and as the Head of UK Delegation to the Sierra Leone Peace Talks – intenational negotiation is the opposite. It is a cooperative process and not a confrontational process. Almost all negotiations cover a range of points, and they work on the basis of you give a bit there, and I give a bit here. Each side has its bottom lines, subjects on which it cannot move at all or move but to a limited degree. Sometimes on a single subject two “bottom lines” can be in direct conflict. Across the whole range of thousands of subjects, you are trying to find a solution all can live with.

So empathy with your opposite number is a key requirement in a skilled negotiator, and everything I have ever seen about Theresa May marks her out as perhaps having less emotional intelligence than anybody I have ever observed. Bonhommie is also important. Genuine friendship can be a vital factor in reaching agreement, and it can happen in unexpected ways. But May has never been able to strike up friendships outside of a social circle limited to a very particular segment of English society, excluding the vast majority of the English, let alone Scots and heaven forfend continentals. The best negotiators have affability, or at least the ability to switch it on. It is a vital tool.

That is not to say occasionally you do not have to speak and stare hard to make plain that one of your bottom lines is real. But that is by no means the norm. And you need the intelligence and sharpness to carry it off, which May does not. That is one of the many differences between May and Thatcher.

Frankly, if I had the choice between sending in Jeremy Corbyn, with his politeness and reasonableness, or Theresa May, into a negotiation I would not hesitate for a second in choosing Corbyn. I am quite sure there is not another diplomat in the World who would make a different choice. May’s flakiness and intolerance of disagreement represent a disaster waiting to happen.

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162 thoughts on “The Art of Negotiation

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  • Charles Crawford

    “Frankly, if I had the choice between sending in Jeremy Corbyn, with his politeness and reasonableness, or Theresa May, into a negotiation I would not hesitate for a second in choosing Corbyn”

    Haha here’s one.

    Always a treat to hear about your ‘serious international negotiation’ experience. I raise you with eg my negotiation with war crimes suspects in Bosnia and the 2005 EU Budget where a cool €800+ BILLION was at stake. Plus extensive experience giving negotiation masterclasses to IAEA nuclear safeguards inspectors and OPCW chemical weapons inspectors among many others. I have written in profusion about international negotiation on my website, with many operational examples:

    Most people would say that the Russians and Chinese and in a strange different way the North Koreans and Iranians are expert international negotiators, yet it’s not clear that they exude empathy, give-and-take, and some new hitherto unknown phenomenon called ‘bonhommie’. Affability? Exactly not. Emotional intelligence? HAHA.

    Imagine Corbyn up against Putin showing ‘politeness and reasonableness’. Corbyn would be a wretched negotiator on Brexit and anything else as he is gullible, dim and vain, stuck in a timewarp of grotty 1970s prep-school socialism.

    Negotiation boils down to some simple propositions. It depends on what’s at stake, and how one chooses to tackle it. Objective negotiating weight/options and ‘subjective’ determination/steeliness. Plus (perhaps above all) what options are available for Just Saying No: how much can you get paid not to block a deal.

    On Brexit, the broad negotiation outcome options are these:

    If as we all hope T May wins the election, I share some of your doubts about the way she might tackle the Brexit challenges, if only because they are so complex for anyone and the capacity of Whitehall to act intelligently has been systematically degraded over the past two decades.

    That said, there are literally no useful conclusions about a multi-year negotiation to be drawn from a bad moment or two giving a speech. Nothing to see here. folks. Move along.

    • John Spencer-Davis

      “If as we all hope T May wins the election…”

      Remarkably stupid and complacent comment. Even by all the polls, skewed or not, less than 50% of people have ever wanted T May to win the election. Or do you mean no-one “serious” does not want her to win the election, “serious” being, in your definition, people who agree with you, as those who do not are by definition not “serious”?

      I think people are perfectly entitled to watch May, Corbyn or anyone else interviewed at length, as they have been interviewed at length, and make their own minds up about who would be the more effective negotiator. I also think that May’s attempts so far, as reported at least, have been utterly dismal, as the leaked negotiations over dinner with Juncker make absolutely clear. Her demeanour during interviews and during media questioning and Prime Minister’s Question Time does not augur well for Brexit.

      Everything to see here, folks. Stay and watch.

      Why not return to your own blog that nobody reads, Crawford. You really are doing yourself no favours by coming here. J

        • John Spencer-Davis

          Nonsense. You made a stupid comment, as you are well aware, and you are now trying to weasel your way out of it. Not that that surprises me in the least.

        • Robert Davies

          Your response appears truculent and carping.

          The EU and UK have mutual interests. There’s no virtue in atttritional doggedness when the UK basically needs favours and are on a limited 2 year time. The EU can wait 10, 15, 20 years for a deal! The politicisation and over-promises by the Leave side, followed by May & co, have caused uncertainty for 4.5mi people, people who are VERY VERY angry at the kind of games you defend! The whole assumption of Leave campaign that being a net customer means, the UK can act out of economic self interest because the German will act in economic rational interest not political one, is destroyed as soon as May & Davis make provocative statements, which cause electoral promises. Remember why Cameron’s deal with Merkel to avoid Juncker’s appointment failed… yes a manifesto pledge in a German (regional IIRC) election.

          • Sharp Ears

            Good going John S-D. You pricked that balloon.

            Thank the Lord CC wasn’t HM Ambassador to Uzbekistan. The torturing and the boiling alive of humans for the CIA’s purposes would have continued ad infinitum. That photo Craig posted still haunts as does the one of the Iraqi boy Ali Abbas with his charred body and his arm bones charred to white stumps. His whole family was wiped out by a US weapon, some sort of neutron bomb I read.

            The photo showing what I describe and his charred torso seems to have been expunged from the net. Only found this one where amputation has taken place and he is bandaged. Yet he smiled.

      • Robert Davies

        Furthermore business people who have attended T. May’s consituency surgeries have come away shocked at her brittleness.
        Charles is wrong when he assumes there was something unusual about May’s performance, or the Manifesto Meltdown. He should find the videos of her not listening to policemen about the effect the cuts have on community intelligence.

        May’s image is a fabrication which doe not stand up to scrutiny, which is why it’s so secretive and he evades questioning.

    • Dave Price

      Crawford said: “Always a treat to hear about your ‘serious international negotiation’ experience”.

      Bit of a cheek, old chum, to tout for trade whilst sneering at your host without argument or evidence (Mods where are you?). Is this an example of your excellent negotiating technique?

      • Charles Crawford

        Touting for what trade?

        Craig has a long vivid history of puffing up his diplomatic experience far beyond what it in fact was, and in sniffing at the expertise of others who did bigger/better diplomatic work than he did. Yes, he had solid interesting middle-level FCO negotiating experience. No, it’s just not ‘very serious’ as he asserts.

        Key point: what he says here about international negotiation is banal and/or obviously wrong. As for argument or evidence, see my short summary of what he gets wrong here:

        • John Spencer-Davis

          You really do make me smile. Your “critique” of what Craig Murray has to say boils down to this: sometimes what he says is right and sometimes it isn’t. You present no evidence beyond your own alleged expertise. You pose the extraordinarily stupid question: “Isn’t the outcome of a negotiation always ‘binary’ – either you get what you want or you don’t?” No. You can get some of what you want, and you may not get all of what you want. Has that never occurred to you as an alleged negotiator? After all, that is the meaning of negotiation.

          Dismal. “Puffing up” is an excellent description of your own material and your own method. Why not go away and try to do a bit better, Crawford. At the moment you’re embarrassing yourself.

        • Resident Dissident

          I wouldn’t waste your breath on our resident keeper of the dogma. You made the perfectly reasonable point that you cannot judge anyone negotiating skills on a couple of minutes dodgy presentation to which I would also add the point that those with good debating/presentation skills are often not very good at negotiations. The ability and nerves and stand up and impose yourself on a crowd does necessarily mean that you have the grasp of detail and ability to relate to others on a smaller scale which are necessary for successful negotiations. Most successful management teams I know have different people for these functions – jack of all trades and masters of none tend not to go very far.

          • Dave Price

            Sorry, Resident Dissident, but what else do we have to judge her on but her behaviour? This includes video footage (many examples and somewhat more than a few minutes) demonstrating a worrying lack of self-possession, but also credible reports of her avoiding situations where she might meet people who could challenge her views.

            Or is it that you take Theresa May’s own assertion that she is a ‘bloody difficult woman’ entirely on trust, and indeed that all will be well on account of that?

          • Loftwork

            “those with good debating/presentation skills are often not very good at negotiations.”

            From which we can infer that you agree that May’s presentation was atrocious? Actually, good debating skills are essential for negotiating. What use is a negotiator with no ability to advocate and no persuasiveness to reach agreement? Your proposal would lead to a very peculiar CV for the job.

        • Dave Price

          Another telling example from Crawford’s link to add to the one critiqued by JSD:

          “There are always a RANGE of outcomes that ‘all can live with’. That’s not the issue. The skill lies in reaching somewhere in that range where the outcome for YOU is the best YOU can possibly get, regardless of what others get”.

          Not quite. The skill lies in reaching somewhere in that range where the outcome for YOU is the best YOU can possibly get, bearing in mind the relationship you will have with the negotiating party after the negotiation has ended. “Regardless of what others get” is a recipe for problems in the future, and about par for the course for your puffed up ‘negotiating style’.

    • Robert Davies

      @Charles Crawford The Russians and Chinese can be inscrutable and steely, because they actually have some real cards to play.. oil/gas, minerals or a huge growing economy and vast nation. What is the UK going to threaten the EU with.. cutting off our own food supplies? Theresa May and David Davis have shown deplorable ignorance, I used to vote Conservative .. I’m NOT going to vote for this lot of smug, ideologues who appear totally delusional! We share a common interest with EU, it is insane to make the worst of a misguided referendum, by confrontational tactics, rather than ensuring the minimum damage to our economies and nations.

      @Craig Murray : Excellent piece which filled out questions, which I’ve begun voicing. All I see May & Davis doing is antagonise the EU, whom we ACTUALLY have common interest with. They’ve politicised it and thus politicians in France & Germany, have to take entrenched positions thanks to voter demands. I feel very much that HMG ministers have acted in unprofessional way, they’ve made the worst out of a national crisis, pandering to the basest elements and prejudices of soceity. Ex-Conservative voter

  • Tony

    “But why would anybody believe that a woman who is not even capable to debate with her opponents would be a good negotiator?”

    Very good point. Perhaps she will resolve that problem by not turning up.
    Every Labour canvasser must use this.

    Also, clips probably will have been misleadingly selected for news programmes.

    It was said back in 1960 that people who listened to the first Kennedy-Nixon debate thought that Nixon had won. By contrast, those who watched it on television thought the opposite. I believe that. And Nixon was not helped by the camera showing him looking very shifty in a number of reaction shots.

    • Loftwork

      True, and I suspect it has not been lost on May that Marine Le Pen may well have lost the recent French election because of her inept performance against the unfailingly polite Macron. At least the French *had* a debate, and a damn good one.

  • Craig Lewis

    [Mod: Caught in spam filter]

    I’ve never heard of Charles Crawford but I’m prepared to believe his self proclaimed expertise as a negotiator. However on his own website he seems not to be averse to homophobic ad hominem attacks on those his arrogance deems to be beyond the pale. This on Chelsea Manning for instance:

    “The same people who rail against the damage supposedly done by President Trump in leaking sensitive information to the Russians gush the glory of the appalling Chelsea Manning in a low-cut open-topped black and white ensemble set off by a slash of bright coral lipstick”

    I taught negotiation skills to senior trade union officials for many years (probably puts me beyond the pale too!) . Generally speaking once you sink to the level of abusing someone you’ve lost any credibility as a negotiator.

    • Bolt Upright

      I had a brief look at his assessment of NK nuclear/Trump option piece and quickly established that his position is ahistorical. I would think that understanding an interlocutors position requires an understanding of historical grievances.

  • dee drake

    As always your writing resonates, tho we have spent the last week dissecting Mays’s shambolic performance… I she the dead cat? seriously. Meanwhile crosbys crew are firing slur bombs beneath the line, targeted ads. have heard the marginals are infested with them. Not a single costed policy to be had.

  • Robert Davies

    But doesn’t Theresa’s team suffer from the self imposed handicap of eliminating people who actually make points and point out difficulties. There’s been a number of leaks about this.

    The Manifesto debacle, is a symptom of autocratic, secretive decision making done without sufficient scrutiny.
    The managers, leaders who produced this mess, are clearly incompetent to undertake anything as vital as the Brexit negotiations, with a blank “trust me” cheque.

    Futhermore all the right wing papers, are preparing their readers for “no deal” walk out. All the well thought out strength, comes from the continent.. the UK has substituted measured reason, with a baying mob stoked by (mostly foreign or non-dom) newspaper barons!

  • Rick Gwilt

    I’ve been belatedly catching up on the televised election campaign. Not seen that much of Theresa May in action before, but I find myself sitting open-mouthed at her ineptitude in debate. No wonder they’re hiding her. In terms of her ability to represent Britain in international negotiations, I think this blog says it all.

  • born and bred in Middlesbrough

    ‘Middlesborough’? You’ll find it’s Middlesbrough.

  • Terry Howard

    What a total self-obsessed arse that man is! Great respect to you for allowing such comments to stand on your blog.

  • Benedict Breitpole

    Only Theresa May can deliver the brutal Brexit that the huge overwhelming one million majority of voters democractically chose in order to take back control of the nation’s borders, deal with the immigrant problem, and make the United Kingdom the world’s premier trading empire once again with all the advantages of a dynamic, low regulation, low taxes, free market economy freed from the dictates of the unelected EUSSR bureauctrats. It is the usual tacticts of the unpatriotic Marxist inspired (and probably financed by Putin) malcontents who continually criticise amd whip up resentment against our strong and stable government led with courage and determination byTheresa May. Of the political party leaders, only Theresa May has demonstrated and reaffirmed the strong resolve that if the defence of the nation was under threat, she would not hesistate to use the necessary and effective nuclear option against our foreign enemies. What more could any patriotic Englishmen who believes in and is loyal to, Queen and Country, ask or vote for?

    • John Spencer-Davis


      I’m quite curious. Do you think this is 2017, or 1917, before patriotic Englishwomen got the vote?

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