We are a long way off from the true art of the deal

Everyone knows, don’t they, a good deal is where a cake is sliced up evenly. If the other gets too much we get too little. Wise leaders and experienced negotiators think differently. If are to come out of this Brexit situation in a good way we need to give our trust to these wisest leaders and sharpest negotiators. And we need to think differently. Radically.

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Stephen Hinton 2016, photo Maj-Lis Koivisto

Everyone knows, don’t they, that we we Brits need a good deal from Brexit – one that is good for us and does not give the EU an advantage over us? A bad deal will mean everyone in the UK gets a drop in standard and the EU will rise, doesn’t it? Well, not everyone thinks that.

Wise leaders and experienced negotiators think differently. If Brits and indeed Europeans are to come out of this situation in a good way we need to give our trust to these wisest leaders and sharpest negotiators. And we need to think differently. Radically.

Being in or out of EU is about being part of a framework of agreements on trade, migration, food standards etc. It is about a deal. This assumes that if we get a bad deal, the EU will get a better deal. Because there is a finite cake and we must fight to get our share. Or if we are outside the EU we will get better deals and the EU will be worse off with less of the cake.

Let me lay this out for you as someone who has followed, if not been involved in, deals for a very long time. The first thing is that a bad deal for one does not necessarily – and most often not – mean it is a good deal for the other.

You see, we humans are more like a family. A really good deal – the best – is one that is good for both. Both sides have different situations and the good deal makes the best of both sides. In trading nations, one nation’s excess – that which they easily produce – can be traded for another nation’s excess where the other nation has difficulty in producing that thing. Win-win, or fair play if you like. Together we make the cake larger and share it fairly.

A bad deal for one will only reduce that partner’s capacity – less support for you post-deal – and probably get them feeling bad and wanting revenge. So the next deal after you got a “good deal” will probably see your trading partners dig their heels in looking for ways to screw you back. A good deal is a long game – good for family long term. A short deal where one gets screwed over is bad for the family as a whole. Good deals require good negotiators but above that they require good leadership.

Good leadership is seeing when a deal needs to be struck and doing everything to get parties to the table. Good leadership is having a vision of the long game and holding the values of family whilst looking after their own people. Whatever happens you need to know that the leaders you chose have YOUR back. Leadership is seeing when a good deal can be improved, or a bad deal can be remedied. Good leadership understands the balance between deals being made now and the momentum that creates, and the long game of nothing is forever.

Deals take time and effort to set up. The long game is highly effective, helping both sides thrive, increasing prosperity for both and therefore more opportunities to work together.
Bad deals leave one side disadvantaged and this brings down the whole family. Bad deals – like austerity – impact the whole family.

Good negotiators set deals up so they work. Good leaders make sure that the deal making is supported. Bad leaders let bad deals go on for too long. Good leaders see when new deals are needed and start the process. Good leaders carry with them a sense of mutualism and fairness whilst having a high degree of care for the ones they represent. Good leaders attract other good leaders.

The attitude of dominating one partner – rather than looking to mutual advantage – has been creeping into society and even the way institutions are run. You could say it is being normalised. This is utterly reprehensible behaviour.. We see examples of poor leadership all the time. Here’s one: a nation offers young men the chance to join the army – the chance of a career, identity, money, job security, doing something important and necessary maybe outweighing the risk of losing your life. But the same nation sees a large percentage of soldiers in the ranks of homeless rough sleepers. Bad deal. Waste of talent, waste of resources, and sending a “don’t care” signal that characterizes poor leadership and permeates all of society. One ex-soldier on the street is one too many yet we are forced to live in a society that lets it happen and we have to helplessly accept we have poor leaders.

A word of caution on deal making. There are times when the other side have poor leaders and even poorer negotiators. The other side resorts to all kinds of dirty tactics and seeks only to dominate the other part. What to do? Well, you need to recognise how dangerous they are to deal with. They often would rather go for a short öerm gain and one that gave them power than a decent deal for both.

Suppose you were planning a football tournament and had to play a really dirty team – how would you strategize? I know nothing about football but I can imagine you would study the other side and learn their tactics. Get the best referees you could, identify the dirtiest players and work to isolate them, train the team do deal with dirty tactics and to stay out of harm’s way as far as possible.

The standard approach is to just not even try to do a deal with unjust players. If you have to, create defences that protect you and your organisation as far as possible before doing the deal and restrict the deal to the absolute minimum. BUT still try to do the minimum deal. A small bridge between peoples is better than no bridge at all.

So how are the EU as a negotiating partner – do we want to deal with them, and are they fair, and are they doing their best to get a good deal for both sides? From where I stand I’d say “no”. They used strong arm tactics against Greece, shutting down their banks. They have unelected leaders and tend to stay on a path that favours liberalism and shuts out other approaches. I might be wrong, but if I were a UK leader I’d ask for a year’s postponement at least and get my best – absolutely best – people onto it. I’d need intelligence, military, diplomatic corps, business, university, union, human rights just to name a few. With such a dangerous partner you need to be fully prepared. And you need to be prepared to walk away.

Seeking out partners whose leaders have the moral fibre you are looking for is what you need to concentrate on. It may have once been a false front for greedy businessmen, but the commonwealth as a concept is sound. Trading for our common wealth. We should pursue it if we can find countries that match our moral standpoint.

In a way, in this family of humans, we are all leaders because we elect leaders. So it is incumbent upon everyone to make an effort to identify and bring to positions of responsibility good leaders. The greater the responsibility the greater moral fibre is needed.
Then it is incumbent on every leader to find good negotiators and give them the opportunity to forge these good deals.

In Britain, where sides are being taken, it is important to build bridges between the sides. If you are an avid Brexiter you should show leadership and seek out avid remainers. Seek to understand their view, seek common ground, seek to already now be looking at how to manage the aftermath of whatever result turns out. For example, whatever the deal, a sovereign nation has to find ways to forge a good deal for everyone whether in or out. There is always the possibility that a good deal with EU would be anyway a bad deal for ordinary working people if not done in a good way. And visa versa.

We as a nation understand fair play and we like it. We invented football and grew up intuitively understanding fair play because we got to explore it day out day in in our playgrounds and playing fields. With fair play, the cost of playing is lower and the results are better for both sides. Having strong morals is actually the most effective way of dealing with people. And efficient.

So do what good leaders do. Find good leaders, promote them, support them. Remove the bad ones. Take the long view in the short view. Focus on making sure people are alright and that anyone who gets the bad end of any deal gets it put right. We can do this – humans have been demonstrating good leadership and deals since time began – it is who we are – let’s get to it!