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.
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 More
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 More
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 More
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 More