When several fingers are in the pie...

Negotiation Analysis
April 30, 2004

Negotiation Analysis makes a significant contribution to an important field. Its main author, Howard Raiffa, is a distinguished emeritus professor at Harvard University, and the book extends his pioneering work, The Art and Science of Negotiation (1982).

This is a classic text, synthesising two approaches to negotiation: the "art" handles human factors and the "science" structured models. The book aims to equip negotiators with the skills "to do a better job". It is a massive work - 550 pages - created by perhaps the most powerful intellect in the field.

The preface introduces Raiffa's assistants for the volume - John Richardson, who lectures on negotiation at Harvard Law School, and David Metcalfe, a Cambridge University PhD with Harvard connections and "an uncanny ability to structure messy problems". The preface also reviews Raiffa's long career and establishes his credentials as a "bridge spanner" who can link theorists and administrators, while a "note on sources" shows what was in the 1982 publication and makes clear that this is in effect a new book.

An extended introduction, part one, explains that much of the volume offers partisan advice to a single decision-maker. It includes a survey of the theory of games, offering novel perspectives on an approach that has given us powerful insights into negotiation.

Part two considers established decision models for two-party negotiations where there is a fixed-size "pie", so that only one party can gain. The authors synthesise the approaches of decision analysis, descriptive decision-making and game theory, as well as introducing complexity - in the shape of uncertainty, time, bids and auctions.

Part three also assumes two parties, but the discussion centres on joint tactics for creating a bigger pie even where each party is simultaneously seeking a larger share. There is emphasis on the need to balance the tensions generated in this situation.

The first three parts of the volume therefore introduce those parts of the academic literature on negotiation that the authors see as relevant in practice, but do not attempt to cover the whole of that literature.

The publishers argue that the volume "can be understood by those with a high-school background in mathematics", and certainly mathematics is used for classification and analysis, more than for computation. Even so, internalising the theoretical analysis and understanding its application may be more difficult for some readers than the publishers suggest. The authors do, however, use two devices to ease the reader's way.

First, case studies play a key role in providing links between theory and action. Some cases are "mainly make-believe"; others exemplify negotiations in the 20th century's most intransigent areas. Especially in the make-believe cases, readers are asked at key points to put the text aside and ponder questions such as where should this negotiation be held? What information should the negotiator acquire in advance? What should he or she do at this particular stage? Or, with massive appeal to self-restraint, "we suggest you find two others to play this game with before reading further".

The second device is the authors' use of imaginary but credible discussions between parties engaged in some of the exercises to clarify the attitudes and tactics of the parties through "discussions" between them.

More important, the book provides first-rate pedagogy as it consistently approaches similar material from various perspectives, giving readers no excuse for lazy thinking.

For negotiators, rather than students, the key messages are in the final third of the book, where the contribution of external helpers - facilitators, mediators and arbitrators - in negotiations, is considered.

At this stage, the case studies come into their own. The most powerful cases analyse successful examples of international negotiation in difficult situations. First, the 1991 Valetta Accord provided a mechanism to resolve peacefully disputes between the members of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Second, the Camp David negotiation between Egypt and Israel, in 1978, illustrates "the role of a third-party intervener with clout" - President Jimmy Carter. Together these cases illustrate how successful negotiations can be where leaders encourage senior advisers to apply analytical thinking and appropriate psychology.

A thought-provoking, contrary note appears in a discussion of "parallel negations". "Back channels" were used in parallel with the main negotiations during the US-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Talks 1 bargaining and in the Oslo talks between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Significantly, the "back channel" experts in both cases reached agreement, while the "front channel" - their high-level principals - did not. Could or should this kind of situation be avoided and, if so, how?

Part five moves to real-world negotiations between several parties and discusses various methods by which solutions are reached, including consensual agreements and coalitions. Voting procedures are also discussed, not least to consider how they might contribute in situations where "people disagree, but must act collectively", so that more than pure majority voting is needed.

The volume's penultimate case provides its most striking example of negotiators solving an intractable problem. Based on Metcalfe's PhD thesis, it shows how the European Commission implemented its decision to liberalise energy markets. In principle, this required only a qualified majority vote, but strong doubts on liberalisation in some member states led to general agreement that the vote must be almost unanimous.

During their 1996-97 presidencies, neither Ireland nor the Netherlands had achieved this. Could tiny Luxembourg, which followed? Intensive information gathering, and the creation of a quick-reference matrix, enabled Robert Goebbels, Luxembourg's energy minister, to negotiate concessions and compromises and to relate these easily to national voting weights and priorities. By investing time, energy and skill, Goebbels and his team achieved virtual consensus.

This is an admirable text for relatively advanced students and for professionals seeking to develop their understanding of the practical contribution of negotiating skills. The Luxembourg example convinces me that it is also relevant to more senior professionals and administrators and to those, including academics, who have negotiation thrust on them in their jobs.

Perhaps too often those of us who engage in negotiations accept that we lack some skills but are uncertain how to learn to do better. While the authors offer a way, I fear it is senior people who may find the challenge of this formidable book too daunting. Yet I firmly believe they would be wrong to hesitate and hope that they will seek inspiration from the volume's examples of successful high-level negotiation. The case studies show clearly that the effective use of powerful techniques does not necessarily require senior people themselves to possess the technical skills, but it does require them to have a sufficient grasp of the power of this approach to lead them to encourage students and younger colleagues to acquire them.

I hope this volume will contribute to the development of a cadre of skilled advisers who can support a new breed of leader in bringing about advance in the application of rigorous thinking to negotiation.

Sir Douglas Hague is an associate fellow of Templeton College, Oxford, and visiting professor, Manchester Business School.

Negotiation Analysis: The Science and Art of Collaborative Decision Making

Author - Howard Raiffa with John Richardson and David Metcalfe
Publisher - Harvard University Press
Pages - 548
Price - £32.95
ISBN - 0 674 00890 1

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