Respectful Negotiation

A successful negotiation is one in which the parties believe that their views have been listened to and considered in reaching a decision.  Failure to do this leads to resentment and obstructiveness.  If one party tries to bully the others, or treat them with condescension, it may feel that it is winning the argument – but the outcome will not be fully accepted by the others and will probably be sub-optimum for all concerned.  Exchanging blows, bullying and confrontation are three of the ways in which politicians fail to negotiate respectfully – as in the following examples.

Donald Trump’s trade war with China is popular with his supporters; he and they feel good about his adversarial approach of imposing tariffs rather than negotiating compromises.  It is a prime example of a coercive foreign policy (  It is partly counter-productive, however: China has retaliated against each of his tariff increases and both countries’ economies are being damaged.  An Economist article, Weapons of mass disruption, warns of the long-term impact of his increasing use of tariffs to exert pressure:

“This pumped-up vision of a 21st-century superpower may be seductive for some. But it could spark a crisis, and it is eroding America’s most valuable asset—its legitimacy.”

Theresa May didn’t reach out to opposition parties and tried to bully Parliament into approving her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.   This approach reflected the adversarial style of British party politics; it completely failed and she had to resign.  An editorial comment, The Times view on Theresa May’s resignation, included this remark on her negotiating style in the UK parliament:

“Having negotiated her Brexit deal, she made little effort to sell it, choosing instead to try to bully Parliament into ratifying the agreement by running down the clock.”

Her successor Boris Johnson was also adversarial. Having purged the moderate wing of his party in a Brexit showdown, he overcame parliamentary opposition – winning an election on a promise to ‘get Brexit done’ as if he were ‘leading the charge of the Light Brigade’.  Unlike Theresa May, he also tried to negotiate with the EU in a similar way: Europe’s negotiator Michel Barnier’s withering verdict on Britain’s Brexit team described him as “full of bluster and bluff”, in contrast to Theresa May’s more adult and respectful style in EU negotiations.  Boris Johnson’s minimal Brexit trade deal then paved the way for further confrontations with the EU, whereas Theresa May had been negotiating a deal which maintained alignment and reduced friction.

As the Guardian remarked, Brexit is a machine to generate perpetual grievance: there is now no trust between Britain and the EU.  In one spectacular example, Sky News reported that Post-Brexit fishing rights row rumbles on as France threatens to cut off electricity supply to Jersey and then France 24 reported that UK sends Navy ships to Jersey as post-Brexit fishing dispute deepens.



This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6841a.htm