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Brexit & The Art of Negotiation

20 Apr 2017
Paul Buchan

After nine months of claim, counter-claim, legislative and political manoeuvring Teresa May finally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty at the end of March. With that so begins two year of strenuous negotiation to enable the UK to exit the EU on favourable terms to ensure as smooth a transition to self-government as possible.

It is clear the details of these negotiations are going to dominate the news, politics and business decision-making like no other event in UK legislative history.

This process is going to involve skilled negotiation to achieve the best possible outcomes but there is no guarantee of a good deal at the end of it all. This is really going to test some of greatest political and legal minds in the UK and the EU as they work towards hammering out a deal. There will be a range of competing interests and everyone will have an agenda. Some will have the protection of EU and UK immigrant status as their primary focus, for others it will be trade and for the larger players in the EU it will be politics as they look to preserve what will be left of the European Union.

Standing Strong

Whatever your thoughts on the UK leaving the EU you have to applaude Mrs May’s ability to arrive even at this point. Lets’ not forget that she has faced rebellion within her own party as well as fierce parliamentary opposition from all significant parties. There have been legal challenges from out with the political arena and persistent and strong protests amongst those who fear the worst from leaving the EU. In the face of all of this Teresa May has stood firm and worked frenetically to be in a position to serve the UK’s notice as a member of the EU. All of this has involved delicate but precise negotiation and it is to be admired that she has been able to stick to her original timetable.

What Is Good Negotiation?

Keeping an eye on all of these developments got me thinking about negotiation and what constitutes good and bad negotiation tactics. A former colleague once said to me,

“I am a terrible negotiator, it is one of the things I dislike most about my job”

and yet this person routinely hit his own personal targets and both his clients and candidates very much liked him. Isn’t it strange that someone can be so successful and yet have this perception of their ability to negotiate? His problem was actually how he assessed a good negotiation and it boiling down purely to margin.

Don’t get me wrong, every business should strive to achieve the best possible revenues and margins, this is what makes the world go round. However I would suggest that a negotiation where you alienate a customer in order to preserve margin is a bad negotiation. Furthermore, a negotiation where you fail to satisfy your non-paying customer (for example our candidates) is also fraught with peril,  potentially having a negative impaction on your reputation and brand perception . Good customer service is at the very core of effective negotiation.

A negotiation where you have a satisfied client who would recommend you to a colleague or other professionals is a good negotiation. Getting the best possible and fair deal that you can for your candidates will ensure that they recommend you to others, that’s a good negotiation. If you can satisfy both of these competing demands you have negotiated well indeed. 

Forgetting recruitment as an industry for a moment I am also left to ponder other aspects of negotiation. Negotiating a better salary for example, negotiating more favourable terms from suppliers, negotiating higher sales volumes, better margins and a whole raft of other things. Even down to negotiating with your 3 year old son about the benefits of eating that one piece of broccoli in return for a treat of some description. The key is to always have something to offer in return.  


Obviously satisfying clients and customers is important but it is vital to remember your own needs within the negotiation. Habit four in Stephen Covey's book about "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" talks about a 'Win-Win' scenario. A good starting point when you begin your negotiations should be to understand what a win would be for both parties. 

If your negotiating position is one where you are striving towards a particular outcome without anything to offer in return then the chances are that the odds are stacked against you. If however you can give as well as take then you will find that your success rate increases. After all, a negotiation where everyone is satisfied with the outcome is what we should be aiming for.


Paul Buchan
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