Almost everyone has faced the frustrating task of government negotiations—local, state, national, or foreign—at some point in their lives.
Whether they are applying for a building permit from their local zoning board, trying to sell software to the U.S. Defense Department, looking for approval for a merger, or planning to set up a business in Limerick or Bangalore, businesspeople confront a unique set of challenges when dealing with government negotiations.
When you’re negotiating in the private sector, you typically have alternatives to making a deal. These alternatives give you the ability to walk away if you aren’t happy with what the other party is offering. By contrast, a government agency or employee may be the only negotiating partner you’ve got.
But even though the government may have more power, it does not necessarily have the upper hand. You can increase your power in government negotiations by teaming up with others in your position.
As an illustration, consider the logic behind labor unions. When bargaining with management, individual employees are in a weak position. A company negotiating with employees one at a time can credibly threaten to hire someone else if an employee demands too much.
By contrast, unions allow employees to bargain collectively and thereby eliminate the source of their weakness. By negotiating collectively, employees avoid competing against one another; instead, they cooperate.
You can do something similar by forming a coalition. When weak parties join a coalition, they avoid destructive competition with one another and, by pooling their resources, gain strength in negotiations with stronger parties. In addition, a coalition defuses a common adversary’s ability to pit one weak party against another or to credibly threaten to walk away.
Secret negotiations are rare, as parties and outsiders often have incentives to leak details to the outside world. But a trio of government negotiations offers tips on how to keep negotiations quiet.
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In early 2022, as most of the globe emerged from severe Covid restrictions, the world was rocked again by Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. The Program on Negotiation’s Top 10 Notable Negotiations of 2022 include talks aimed at ending the war and easing its impact, as well as a range of government and business negotiations.
10. … Read Top 10 Notable Negotiations of 2022
On July 6, 2017, the state of Illinois finally resolved a 793-day budget impasse, the longest such impasse in U.S. history. The economically devastating stalemate between Republican then-governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled state legislature, triggered by hardball negotiation tactics, offers lessons to negotiators managing difficult negotiations.
An Agenda and a Condition
As Illinois politicians approached negotiations … Read More
In February 2022, Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia, where she plays for a professional basketball team during the WNBA offseason, after being accused of bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country. She faces 10 years imprisonment in a Russian penal colony. Given the extreme tensions between … Read Government Negotiations: The Brittney Griner Case
In the aftermath of the December 2012 killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, then-president Barack Obama moved gun control to the top of his legislative agenda. By April 2013, the Senate was considering requiring universal criminal background checks for all gun purchases and banning assault weapons … Read More
In 1987 government negotiations, U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev took early steps to end the Cold War by signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms control treaty in Washington, D.C. Banning all ground-launched nuclear and conventional missile systems within a certain range, the INF treaty put in place a strict … Read More
Challenged by pandemic-era uncertainty, mounting political divides, and other obstacles, negotiators had difficulty coming together in 2021. But our list of 10 Notable Negotiations of 2021 includes a few bargaining highs amid the many lows.
… Read 10 Notable Negotiations of 2021
Whether at the local, federal, or international level, negotiations with governments often involve unique pressures and constraints. Does the official at the table actually have decision-making authority? What kinds of regulatory or policy constraints are they operating under? Governments often pursue very different interests in negotiations from those of a private company. In Seven Secrets for … Read More
In crisis negotiations, we typically face a number of difficult decisions. Should we try to negotiate on our own or team up with others with shared goals? Should we take time to drive a hard bargain or try to wrap up talks as quickly as possible? How can we account for uncertainty and risk in … Read Learning from crisis negotiations
Some people learn to negotiate on the job, in a classroom, or in a therapist’s office. In Nelson Mandela’s case, “prison taught him to be a master negotiator,” writes Bill Keller in his New York Times obituary of the legendary activist turned president, who died on December 5, 2013.
Soon after his arrival at South Africa’s … Read Nelson Mandela: Negotiation Lessons from a Master
In late December, 2020, the Trump administration reached a $1.95 billion deal with pharmaceutical company Pfizer to purchase 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine it had developed in partnership with German drugmaker BioNTech, enough to immunize 50 million people. It was the second such deal the parties had reached since the pandemic began to … Read More
If there’s one thing that negotiators have practiced this year, it’s thinking on their feet. As our 10 notable negotiations of 2020 illustrate, the coronavirus pandemic left individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and governments trying to replace outmoded plans with more workable alternatives.
10 Notable Negotiations of 2020
10. Struggling to play ball. This year, sports leagues scrambled to … Read 10 Notable Negotiations of 2020