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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits with members of her cabinet
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits with members of her cabinet. Image: Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS

Brexit: What We Learnt About The Art of Negotiating

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May sits with members of her cabinet. Image: Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS

What is diplomacy, but the art of negotiating? In one of the most ground-breaking decisions a country has ever made since the creation of the European Union, the United Kingdom and its leaders are playing hard to pull every negotiating string they can, in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

While UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May might have to back down on some of “Brexiteers” wishes – including some reasons of why British citizens voted for Brexit, May has to face the vivid reactions of the “Remainers” in order to sustain a healthy economy and social balance in the country. 

May will have to get inspiration from strategy experts. Here is a little overview of those who excelled – and others who failed at the art of negotiating. 

1. Solidify your BATNA

The Brexit situation has put into light how a government must develop a “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA). In other words, May’s no deal could be her BATNA, and she must offer options in order to maintain social peace in her country.

Wendy Cutler, who spent almost three decades as a negotiator in the Office of the US Trade Representative, shared her analysis to the BBC. “You never want to reveal your bottom line until it’s the end, because if you show your hand, and if it’s not the end, you’ll end up having to give more away,” she says. In other words, the more options you have, the more powerful you become.

As she recalls, politicians are likely to accelerate negotiations as Brexit’s deadline is set for March 29th, 2019. “I do find that as you get closer to the deadline, people start to think about the implications about not having a deal”, she said.

2. Keep your emotions in check

Strategy is not the only factor one has to consider to succeed in a deal. While negotiations are the result of interactions between several parts, the human side appears to be crucial.

While 2018 has been the most emotion-driven year across media channels, whether online or on TV, Theresa May has learnt to remain discreet in order to hold back her emotions. Last year, Donald Tusk, the then President of the European Council asked Theresa May to not let “emotions get out of hand”, as the Evening Standard reported.

Therefore, she tried to managed as much as she could with other European countries without using words or idiomatic expressions related to emotion. Sometimes, small stories can affect the bigger one.

May was vividly criticized by both parties for not showing enough emotions after a dramatic fire occurred in the Greenfell towers in central London. The Independent even headlined that May had “inability to show emotion to the public proves that she isn’t fit to be Prime Minister”.

Read our story: Migrant Numbers Drop, “Creating Shortage of Skilled Workers in Britain”

3. Focus on the “why” rather than the “what”

All in all, if there is one art where you need to develop maximal empathy, it is negotiation. As the London-based Open University reminds its students, Brexit is a great way to see how Theresa May had to show her psychological skills.

Wendy Cutler reminds BBC readers that “Pleasing people at home is now more important than striking a deal abroad,” she says. In that regard, May seems to have failed, as she asked for a vote of confidence a few weeks ago.

In the past week, Theresa May had to reinforce her strategy.

During a session at the Houe of Commons, she was called a “stupid woman” by the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, who is her main opponent. Instead on focusing on why Britons chose to leave Europe, Theresa May focused on what was Brexit.

Last scandal to date: a video posted by the Home Office during Christmas week where the government explains for families who have a European spouse or family member how to remain in the country. British citizens described to the Washington Post this campaign as an “absolute disgrace”.

At the moment, no rule was voted between the other European countries and the United Kingdom regarding the million of British expatriates who live in the European Union, making it a growing issue as the deadline approaches.

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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.