The Impact of Leadership Styles on Negotiation: Conflict Negotiators Turn to Miss Universe

Miss Universe Engages in Conflict Resolution Negotiations in Colombia

By on / Leadership Skills

Opening offers lie at the heart of any successful negotiation. Here are four negotiation fundamentals that any negotiator should take to heart.

Can a beauty queen lend a hand to help end half a century of conflict in her home country? Newly crowned Miss Universe Paulina Vega believes she can, and Colombia’s FARC rebels appear to agree. The South American nation’s first Miss Universe since the 1950s hasn’t been shy about expressing her hopes that two years of negotiations between the rebels and the government will succeed, telling an interviewer in January that she would even join peace talks if it would help the parties reach a deal.


If you aspire to be a great leader, not just a boss, start here: Download our FREE Special Report, Real Leaders Negotiate: Understanding the Difference between Leadership and Management, from Harvard Law School.


Vega’s comments caught the attention of FARC leaders who wrote to her in early February, inviting her to observe their progress first-hand in Havana. Without batting an eye, Vega responded that she would happily go, if invited first by FARC’s adversary, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

It might be difficult to imagine Miss Universe at the heart of negotiations to end such a bitter conflict, but in a country where more than 200,000 civilians have been killed, Vega’s anointment as Miss Universe has been a source of pride. Millions of viewers tuned in to watch the contest, and Colombians rejoiced the following day with widespread celebrations. Santos even declared a national holiday.

For Vega and the FARC, it’s an important mix of leadership and public relations in the heart of a long-running and difficult negotiation. While only a small component of that negotiation, it has been an important one at a critical moment. Their very public back-and-forth shows how fundamental leadership skills and negotiating tactics can help build trust and inject vitality into highly-charged talks.

4 Negotiation Tactics for Making an Impact at the Bargaining Table

Negotiation Tactic #1. Noticing – We often fail to notice the things that might help us succeed in a negotiation, even when they’re right before their eyes. Having previously spent decades in remote jungles, FARC’s invitation to Vega would have been unthinkable even five years ago. After years of talks, however, the rebels are attuned to a public they rarely encountered before. In hindsight their invitation may seem like common sense, but noticing Vega’s overture in the first place and turning that into an outstretched hand was an unlikely move that shows creative adaptive leadership skills.

Negotiation Tactic #2. Good Timing – As the saying goes, timing is everything. With the potential for an agreement drawing near, the peace negotiations must address some of the most painful issues of the conflict, including human rights abuses. Had their exchange occurred during other stages of the negotiations, Vega’s presence might have been construed as a distraction, but her well-timed entry adds a much-needed humanity, showing a self-awareness of the leadership skills she can bring to the table at an opportune moment.

Negotiation Tactic #3. Help The Other Side – After more than 30 rounds of negotiations in Cuba, the Colombian public has grown more skeptical that peace will come. FARC’s invitation sends a message that the rebels have continued faith in the talks. By replying that she will help, but only at the request of President Santos, Vega enhances perceptions that the current approach can work.

Ensuring success in a negotiation requires the leadership skills to do something that is counterintuitive for many—help the other side overcome their barriers away from the table. By countering negative perceptions of the possibility for a deal, Vega and the FARC have given Santos room to continue to negotiate.

Negotiation Tactic #4. Interests Matter, Not Positions – Ultimately, by setting aside short term positions, the unlikely duo—rebels and Miss Universe—have used uncommon leadership skills to recognize a shared interest and improve the chances of continued public support for a successful outcome in Havana.

Related Leadership Skills Article: Negotiations in Real Life: The Habits of Great Women Leaders


If you aspire to be a great leader, not just a boss, start here: Download our FREE Special Report, Real Leaders Negotiate: Understanding the Difference between Leadership and Management, from Harvard Law School.


Originally published in 2015.

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