We don't know where to start

Published: Feb 28 , 2013
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The British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the talks with John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State, would be so far reaching that it would be difficult to know where to start.

I am sure he was joking. At least I hope he was.

Whilst I am sure there are a mass of things on their agenda, Afghanistan, Syria, climate change, printing money to get out of austerity, even the Falkland's, it always makes sense to enter any form of meeting or negotiation with a clear idea of the most important issues.

Many years ago I was working with a guy who said he often started negotiations with low value, easy to resolve issues in an attempt to build up a level of rapport that made the bigger issues easier to resolve later on in the discussion.

Indeed he would, he said, often give in on the smaller issues so that later in the negotiation he could say to the other side that he had already made a number of concessions, and it was their turn now.

Whilst I understood the principal it worried me that the concept of capitulation (even capitulation in an attempt to build goodwill) may just as well create a feeling from the other side that the negotiation had not even begun yet. Variables had been removed from the game without any trading (negotiating) even taking place. 

Almost as worrying was the concept that leaving the big issues or priorities to later in the meeting may actually be an utter waste of time.

Imagine that the big issues can never be resolved, all that effort resolving the smaller issues may eventually get you no-where.

Time is a commodity in very limited supply. I want to use what I have as effectively as possible, which means for me sorting out the big stuff first.

Alan Smith


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