On September 15, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, announced a deal aimed at heading off a U.S. attack on Syria, threatened by President Obama, in exchange for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s promise to dismantle his country’s chemical weapons.
The Russia-proposed trade was embraced by major players in the conflict, including Syria, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authoritative leadership on the issue stood in stark contrast to Obama’s weeks of waffling on the timing, scope, and authorization of strikes following U.S. accusations that Assad’s forces had killed more than 1,400 in a chemical attack in August.
Obama was focused so narrowly on possible military solutions to the Syrian conflict that he overlooked or discounted novel diplomatic solutions, such as enlisting his rival Putin as a de-facto mediator in the challenge of halting Syrian chemical attacks.
It is common for decision makers—from laypeople to leaders alike—to focus too narrowly on the situation at hand, according to Harvard Business School professor Max H. Bazerman. By contrast, career diplomats can display an impressive ability to include information that is not obviously relevant to a negotiation in their decision making.
Short of living overseas, there are measures the rest of us can take to expand our focus in negotiation. In particular, we need to ask more questions and seek more information throughout the negotiation process, Bazerman writes.