Negotiating War: The Conflict Between Russia and Ukraine

By Mark Sharp January 28, 2022 | 4 min read

The evolving conflict involving the Russian and Ukrainian governments presents an interesting negotiation case study.

Who are the players?

What’s at stake?

Who has power?

How will it end?

Without getting into a geopolitical debate, it is fascinating to view this situation in terms of negotiation technique and skills.

What is at the core of the conflict?

In an abstract sense, the conflict appears to hinge on security. Obviously, there is likely much, much more to the story, but for our purposes, let’s keep it simple and as abstract as possible.

When security is at question, or let’s say fairness, the underlying issue is very likely trust. And we know that trust is a critical component for any successfully negotiated agreement.

Another key factor in this conflict appears to be power. Each side appears to portray its actions as a response to the other party’s aggression.

With Power and Trust at issue, the conflict is undoubtedly tense. One hundred thousand troops at the border tense, or what we would call “overly competitive.” 

So, assuming neither side wants war, how can a situation like this be resolved?

How would this play out in the boardroom?

Viewing the situation through the lens of business negotiation, let's examine how the Russia/Ukraine conflict could play out using RED BEAR Negotiation's Philosophy. Given the current geopolitical environment, it appears the best path forward is through diplomacy. Diplomacy in its purest form is dialogue, which is a collaborative process that builds trust, but is also used to uncover information to fuel creative problem solving and pave the way to successful outcomes.

Satisfy Needs over Wants

In our workshops, we teach the negotiation principle, “Satisfy Needs over Wants.” It is important to move past WHAT is initially being demanded and identify the WHY. Wants are the WHAT and they are often specific narrow, measurable demands. Needs, on the other hand, are the WHY, these are typically underlying concerns, interests, and motivations.

Manage Information Skillfully

This requires another of our negotiation principles, “Manage Information Skillfully.” This principle involves the careful coordination of sharing and protecting information while trying to uncover information your counterpart is attempting to protect.

Position your case advantageously

Sharing information that is advantageous allows you to position your case to influence your counterpart’s perception. This is another of our principles, "Position your Case Advantageously." Shaping their understanding of your interests increases your chances of getting a deal that better suits your needs. Likewise, protecting information that could undermine your cause helps you maintain an advantage while protecting your interests. It’s important to understand that your opponent - if they are a skilled negotiator - will be doing much the same.

Ask Open Questions

To work through the process of uncovering information, skilled negotiators use a line of open questions meant to get information flowing, even if it’s misinformation. Getting an opponent talking greatly increases the chances of finding information to better understand motivations. Once information is available, set about testing and validating information to tease out what’s legitimate and what is positioning.

Know the full range and strength of your power

The back and forth of information requires a continuous assessment of Power. Another of our negotiation principles is, “Know the full range and strength of your Power.” As information comes to light, the dynamics of the negotiation will shift. It is important to gauge when and how power shifts in a negotiation.

What's your source of power

Remember, Power in negotiation is subjective. We like to say, you only have as much Power as your opponent perceives you to have. There are 6 sources of Power in a negotiation. Be sure to acquaint yourself with these sources of power and be ready to take advantage of every opportunity to exploit your power.

Use the 5 Negotiation Behaviors

Part of assessing and establishing Power comes out of our 5 Negotiation Behaviors used to identify creative solutions. When working with a counterpart to identify their needs we use a series of open questions. When a response provides information that strengthens our case or increases our power, we need to act. We refer to this as Test and Summarize.

Let's put it all in action

It works like this, after identifying a piece of information that complements your position, attempt to verify that piece of information by asking whether you are correct in your understanding. This not only helps to gauge your power, but it also helps you build rapport, or trust, with the other party based on a mutual understanding and agreement. This is important when working on resolving trust issues. Mutual understanding establishes a foundation to build agreements that repairs relationships and leaves both parties more satisfied.

Once a summary is validated, there is an opportunity to propose a solution, conditionally. For instance, you might say, “if I were to X, would you be willing to Y?” Presenting the question opens the door to a possible agreement or to further dialogue. This step helps to float possible solutions to narrow in on mutually agreed upon outcomes.

Concede According to plan

Concessions therefore become the backbone of resolving trust and power issues in a negotiation. Give and take. When conceding in negotiations, it is vital to never give anything up without getting something in return. Ideally, we recommend using “Elegant Negotiables.” An Elegant Negotiable is something that has high value to your counterpart but a low cost to you. And vice versa. Something that has a high value to you but has a low-cost for your counterpart. Elegant Negotiables work to level the overall value of the agreement when a single term, such as price or timing, is unmovable.

Define Elegant Negotiables

Skilled negotiators use Elegant Negotiables to satisfy their own interests while also leaving their counterpart satisfied with the outcome. This builds trust, as well as respects power between parties and ideally contributes to a stronger, healthier relationship. That might be asking a lot of global superpowers, but we can hope!

The trick is managing tension

So, as diplomates continue to work through the issues, let’s hope they successfully manage the tension and remain committed to dialogue and persistent in their attempt to build trust and respect power.

In the meantime, as negotiation scholars and armchair geopolitical analysts, we can contemplate whether trust in this situation can ever be restored and who, ultimately, has the most power?

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