Cyprus Mail

The basic rules of successful negotiations

By Christos P. Panayiotides

MANY decades ago, on my appointment as a partner of the Continental European Firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co (now KPMG), I was invited to attend a seminar on “negotiating skills”.  The gist of what I learnt, as a result of attending that seminar, could be summarised as follows:

A successful negotiation requires the parties embarking on such a process to come together and hammer out an agreement, which is mutually acceptable.  By definition, a negotiation process entails sacrifices and compromises.  In contrast, in a war scenario, one party (the winner) invariably imposes his preferences on the other parties (the losers).

Effective negotiators must have the skills to analyse the problem, which forms the subject matter of the negotiation process, in order to determine the interests of each party involved in the process.  Leaders with negotiation skills must have the ability to seek solutions (instead of merely focusing on their ultimate goal) and to act decisively by agreeing quickly to a compromise, thus avoiding a stalemate.

The basic rules, which one is required to observe in a successful negotiation process are:

Do not keep raising the yardstick.  Once you reach an acceptable compromise, strike a deal.  Upward moving goals are certain to lead (sooner or later) to a breakdown of the negotiation process.

Realistically assess your strengths and your weaknesses.  By simply convincing yourself that you are in a stronger negotiating position than that of your opponent, you are undermining your chances of reaching a mutually acceptable solution.  It is not realistic to assume that you can fool or trap your opponent nor is it realistic to hope that you can twist your opponent’s arm, if he happens to be stronger than you are.

Never embarrass your opponent.  Embarrassing the other parties involved in a negotiation process makes it more difficult for them to back down.  Acrimony is a deal killer.  Avoid hostility at all costs.

Never bang your hand on the table, i.e. do not attempt to dictate your terms unless you can convincingly demonstrate that you have the power to impose your terms, in the event of a failure to reach a mutually acceptable compromise.

Be willing to walk away from the negotiation process but, before doing so, objectively assess your chances of getting a better deal in the future.  Ensure that your assessment is based on facts and it is not the result of wishful thinking.

Learn from your past mistakes.  If you have systematically failed to achieve your goals in past negotiations, consider the possibility of being a person who sets his goals at unattainable levels or systematically ignores the basic rules of successful negotiations.

Unfortunately, past experience suggests that – with few notable exceptions – the negotiating skills of Greek and Greek Cypriot politicians leave a lot to be desired.  Their consistent failure to achieve their goals (primarily stemming from setting targets that were objectively unattainable or from a naive belief that they were in a position to unilaterally dictate the terms of the settlement of the political problems confronting them) has depressed their performance further (rather than served as a stimulus for improvement).

A good example of such political inaptitude is the case of Antonis Samaras, who, in his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs, had managed to undermine the efforts of the then Prime Minister of Greece to resolve the conflict of Greece with its neighbouring country, concerning the latter’s name.  The end-result of his 1992 “revolt” was that the name “Macedonia” ended up being accepted (by literally everyone outside of Greece) as the international name of Greece’s neighbouring country.

Twenty five years later, the present Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicos Kotzias, initially gave the impression that he was employing similar tactics to those of his predecessor, as part of an effort to undermine the process of reaching a compromised solution of the Cyprus problem.  The difference is that the potential consequences of the non-resolution of the Cyprus problem are far greater than those associated with the loss of the exclusive use of the Macedonia name.

Thankfully, Mr Kotzias appears to have retracted and the Greek government is now fully behind President Anastasiades in his efforts to reach an acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem.  Let us hope that Turkey will reaffirm its commitment to reach a mutually acceptable settlement of this long-outstanding problem, by showing the required degree of flexibility and by practically demonstrating its willingness to act in a manner that would heal the wounds caused by the 1974 invasion.


Christos Panayiotides is a retired Certified Public Accountant

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