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Alan Smith


The hunt for negotiators has begun on a Global scale.

Offers of help from all over the place, New Zealand, Australia and no doubt every part of the Commonwealth and beyond to help the UK deal with the inevitable day to day transactional not to mention the framing and strategic negotiations that will result from the Brexit.

Surely we are not that light on experience in highly complex, multi-partied negotiations that we have to import them from literally the other side of the world.

As a proud Brit (who voted remain) I can’t let myself be convinced that there are other nations better at negotiating than we are. That if there were a European Cup for negotiation, England would be knocked out in the group stages with Ireland. Scotland wouldn’t even make it to the table, and we would be reliant on Wales to bring home our British pride in the semi-finals, despite their valiant loss last night. (I like many other Brits now claim some Welsh ancestry, or at least a holiday to Rhyll in 1974).

I can safely say that as negotiators we are as proficient as any. Sadly, that bar is not set very high, and I make that comment based on a wealth of international experience both as a consultant and coach.

And we do have some highly experienced deal makers throughout our organisations and companies, the challenge is in turning that experience into an organisational expertise.

A number of years ago I was working with a large international company. I had been invited in to train a very senior group of executives in developing their negotiation skills.

In the pre course briefing I was taken to one side and told to be careful of one character (let’s call her Margaret) who was the most experienced negotiator they had, would know everything and may walk out of the course at any point as she felt this kind of thing was beneath her. I make no other observation, and when I sat next to her at dinner on the second evening (she stayed for the whole course) we had a very interesting discussion about her experiences both on the programme and beyond.

She was, she agreed, highly experienced but had struggled to find ways of turning that experience into expertise. When asked what she did to create the great deals she no doubt did, she found it hard to explain. Without that ability to diagnose and share, her experience was a limiting factor within her organisation and indeed her own career.

The challenge for the next few years is therefore not just one of finding good negotiators. It also requires the creation of clear ways of developing and transferring those good practices across the myriad of people who will be running alongside the core negotiators, supporting them and stepping up to the plate when their time comes.

Where are those people coming from in your organisation?

Alan Smith

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