Backscratch and Barter: The Art of Negotiation

Terry Waite CBE
Terry Waite CBE

Despite the snow, the student protests and the train service we made the dinner with Terry Waite CBE last night on the topic of Barter and Backscratch – The Art of Negotiation. What an experience! Most of us negotiate constantly with our families, our colleagues, our suppliers and our customers. But how different it is, when peoples lives and liberties are at stake. And as Terry’s story played out – his own. He gave us his simple plan for negotiation, which we could easily replicate in our professional lives:

• face to face encounter
• build a relationship of trust
• get to the reasons why (the hostages were taken in his case)
• create a resolution where all parties walk away with dignity in tact.

He also talked about his conditions. He has certain ethics or rules by which he lives. And he will not break those for others or ultimately for himself, even when his own liberty is in danger. How many of us, by slice and dice, have compromised on our own internal ‘rules’?

He then illustrated these factors with his own rich story, told by a master story teller. We were all spellbound, listening fascinated to his experience.  He talked about the balancing of intuition and reality. He talked about the need to be flexible and think fast on your feet. There is no rule book, no process that you can implement for negotiation. A negotiation will go in unexpected directions.

This was no Pollyanna who skips innocently into danger, but a humanitarian who balances risks. I’m sure the rest, like me,  were linking his experiences with our own lives and our own choices – the ethical, the practical, the flexible and the need to achieve a result that we can live with.

The hour and a half was far too short, and we kept the conversation going over dinner. Only reluctantly did we all part, more driven by the practical necessities of getting home in the snow that a true desire to leave.

I personally learned a lot last night – practical steps in the art of negotiation, the need to be as well informed as possible but that ultimately we all make decisions with incomplete information and need to take calculated risks to achieve our goals. Did I know this before – of course I did, but to hear it pulled together in such a dramatic fashion reminded me again of the importance of negotiation in our professional and personal lives and that it demands preparation. This is one dinner, one dinner guest, one conversation I will remember for the rest of my life – my dinner with Terry Waite CBE.

CIOnet members can view the full report here.

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