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the secret to successful (and fair) negotiations

November 23, 2015

Nothing you negotiate will ever be fair. Ever.

Zygons from Dr Who

Three Zygons

I know that because there are Zygons living among us! It is the result of an agreement negotiated to prevent a global conflict between us humans and the aliens that would have ultimately led to mass casualties and suffering on both sides. Oh, and a spoiled world for the victor – whomever that might have been. Fortunately, common sense prevailed (thank you Doctor) and a peace agreement was negotiated that was fair to all parties.

But if nothing you will ever negotiate will be fair, how can anyone create a negotiated outcome that is the best possible outcome for the parties involved? I am not talking about an “I can live with that compromise if I am forced to…”  sort of agreement that ultimately leads to resentment,  I mean a truly fair, win-win result. Can you imagine that?

Dr Who can.

You make the parties to the negotiations forget which side they are on.  Because, if you don’t know which side of the agreement you are going to end up on it changes the way you think about the policy and processes you want to put in place. There is no “them”. Just “us”.

Imagine if the representatives of the Australian Government responsible for refugee policy were put in a room with refugees and then all of them were made to temporarily forget who was seeking refuge from who?

Imagine if those who develop policy around law and order were put in a room with the people who transgress those laws – neither knowing who will be administering “justice” and who will be receiving it. I am guessing we would get closer to a restorative justice model than the model we see operating around us today.

Imagine what would happen if those who believe industry has a right to pollute the environment, displace local populations and repatriate the profits were put in the same room as the people who must breathe the air, drink the water and continue living their lives along side that industry. Would you pollute the water if you knew your kids would have to drink it?

Imagine if we put healthy, well paid 20-somethings with great career prospects in the same room as unemployed, homeless 20-somethings with mental health issues and left them to sort out what our unemployment and healthcare systems should look like – neither knowing whether they were sleeping in a bed or under a bridge when they finished the negotiations that day. Then you would get fair. Then you would get equitable.

I guess that is the wonderful thing about science fiction. It allows us to imagine a future that may never exist. The wonderful thing about being human (and maybe even about being alien) is that once you imagine it you have started the process of creating it. Imagine that.

***

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