Five Fundamentals of Negotiation from Great Negotiator Tommy Koh

This great negotiator describes five fundamentals that have value in almost any negotiation.

By on / Negotiation Skills

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Negotiation as an art and negotiation as a science: Two fundamentally different statements but one cohesive element binds them together – process. While the blueprint for achieving your negotiation goals may differ depending on the type of negotiation, the road to negotiation success looks much the same across most negotiation scenarios. In discussing the art and science of negotiation, great negotiator Tommy Koh described five “fundamentals” that Program on Negotiation faculty member James K. Sebenius says, “have value in almost any negotiation.”


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


These “often-neglected” fundamentals include:

  1. Master your brief.
  2. Build a talented, happy, and cohesive team.
  3. Build a common fact base.
  4. Think outside your own box.
  5. Think win-win.

While these five fundamentals have applicability to almost any negotiation you will encounter, Ambassador Koh also offered substantive advice for those negotiators facing far more complex negotiations, such as those involving various international interests.

To recap, Tommy Koh became the youngest ambassador ever appointed to the United Nations and later served as Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States. During his remarkable career, Koh played central roles in some of the most complex international negotiations ever held. For example, he:

  • Led negotiations over China’s recognition of Singapore while preserving Singapore’s important relationship with Taiwan;
  • Served as President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea in which thousands of delegate-negotiators hammered out a “constitution for the oceans” that was ultimately ratified and/or signed by 197 countries;
  • Chaired negotiations at the Rio “Earth Summit”—likely the high point of international environmental cooperation, with the final session attended by no fewer than 130 heads of state/government—that produced global agreements on forests, biodiversity, desertification, and climate change, etc.; and
  • Acted as Chief Negotiator for Singapore in talks leading to the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

To read more about Tommy Koh’s advice for leading and conducting large, multinational negotiations, you can read James K. Sebenius’ analysis here on the Harvard Business Review blog.

From studying a great negotiator like Tommy Koh, we can learn (or re-learn) the fundamentals as well as inventive approaches to truly challenging negotiations.

Who do you think of as a great negotiator? Share your favorites in the comments.


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Related Article: Great Negotiator Tommy Koh Describes Negotiation as Both an Art and Science

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Comments

One Response to “Five Fundamentals of Negotiation from Great Negotiator Tommy Koh”

  • Tom M.

    Rightly pointed out; Mastering your brief should be the fundamental element of a negotiation and that applies to all negotiators, arbitrators and mediators.

    Reply

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