The Story Behind the Book


It had been a morning of tough negotiations...

at the Governing Council of the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. When we met each other at break time, we laughed over coffee about the idea of putting our negotiation war stories in a book someday. 

We day-dreamed of writing a book that would combine the perspectives of three female negotiators representing three very different countries: Guatemala, Singapore, and the United States. Together, we had learned first-hand, through some tears and much laughter, that negotiating among 193 UN Member States is a frustrating, exhausting, and wonderful experience that - if done right - can yield transformative results for the world. 

Former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld understood the tension that exists between national interests and service to the world. Like many other diplomats, he often struggled between these contrasting ideals. Nevertheless, he believed the UN was the place where, “it is possible to serve the world by serving our nation, and to serve our nation by serving the world.”[1] He believed any negotiator could learn how to speak for the world by balancing national interests and global responsibility. 

Speaking for the world is not an easy undertaking, especially in the context of competing national and global priorities, but we strongly believe the ability to do so is within reach for those who aspire to it. We also believe national and global priorities do not have to be in competition; our personal experience has taught us that when we work with others to reconcile what may at first appear to be conflicting interests, we can achieve groundbreaking results. The idea for this book is therefore threefold: 

First, that new negotiators to the UN would not have to learn the lessons we did the hard way, starting from zero. With a guidebook that could help jumpstart their UN negotiation journey, they could ease more quickly into their negotiator role, avoid the standard mistakes, and have the power to bring more positive global change through diplomacy. We wanted to offer negotiators a tool to reduce the learning curve. 

Second, that negotiators will be able to see how others before them had crossed geographical, cultural, and ideological divides to build outcomes - together - that could benefit the greater good. By drawing on others’ stories and experiences, negotiators facing their own battles would be able to draw inspiration and strength to find common ground. We wanted to offer a playbook for cooperation. 

Third, that everyone will recognise their own power and responsibility as a negotiator and use it to speak for a better world. Negotiations - regardless of the flag you represent - are a deeply personal experience: you carry your own stories, values, and personality with you into the process. Each individual influences the negotiation and the outcome more than you might ever imagine. Negotiations are not limited to the UN domain, they take place regularly in everyday life. We can speak to tear others down, or we can speak to build them up. We hope this book helps readers to do the latter. 

This book is written by three negotiators; it is therefore not a book on theory, but on practice. It is a handbook for negotiators and anyone interested in understanding how complex multilateral agreements are made. Although much of the content can apply more broadly, it is especially a guide to navigating the turbulent waters of multilateral negotiations at the UN. We hope you will find it multilayered: informative for the young diplomat just starting her career, while a helpful companion to the experienced negotiator who will see a reflection of her own experience (and a reminder of the associated lessons) in its pages. 

Like many UN negotiation drafts, we consider our book a “live” document and would welcome constructive feedback on how we can improve it! You can contact us at


[1] Kai Falkman, To Speak for the World: Speeches and Statements by Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations 1953-1961 (Stockholm: Atlantis, 2005), 142.

Excerpted from "Negotiating at the United Nations," to be published by Routledge, April 11, 2019.