A Lesson in Multilateral Negotiations

A Lesson in Multilateral Negotiations


In a dynamic, interconnected world, we collectively face ever-more-difficult policy debates at all levels. In nearly every discussion, there will be multiple actors, myriad vested interests, and vast differences in perspective on the solution (or the need for a solution at all!). Radically different data sets will be cited, and assumptions held, from proponents on each side. Though critically necessary, a solution will appear unattainable…it’s the basic setup for a classic multilateral negotiation. To achieve successful outcomes from policy discussions, a multilateral approach is the only way forward. With that in mind, I’d offer one key piece of advice, based on my decade in multilateral negotiations, to any and all stakeholders - my “Lesson One in Multilateral Negotiations” is Make Friends. The other stakeholders may, in reality, feel and behave more like combatants than friends. However, it is a mistake to view them this way. Better solutions come from listening and brainstorming, and creating an atmosphere that fosters these collaborative processes. The first thing to do in any negotiation is get to know your counterparts and understand them - all of them, and not only those who appear to be on your side. You don’t have to actually like the other participants in the discussion (though it helps), but respect is a necessity and admiration (even grudging) is a bonus. Building a relationship will allow you to see the person behind – and beyond – the position she is promoting. “Making friends” seems an obvious tactic, but it’s easy to lose sight of this in the heat of the moment. Remembering to build relationships early is an investment that will pay off – they are key to a successful outcome. Rather than fighting for a position, work with partners to protect it…because it is in everyone’s interest to reach a good policy outcome.  


Rebecca W. Gaudiosi, co-author of Negotiating at the United Nations