Negotiation in global politics have dominated the headlines recently, between North Korea and U.S. relations, international trade dealings and the G-7 summit.
Key to these dealings? Diplomacy and negotiation — how to do it, what to avoid and the cost of getting it wrong. Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School, recently co-authored “Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.”
He sat down with Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O’Leary to discuss the art of negotiation and its importance on a micro and macro scale. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Lizzie O’Leary: So let’s be sort of meta for a second. In politics, work, home, marriage, whatever — what is the basis of negotiation?
Maurice Schweitzer: Well, the key idea is that we’re constantly oscillating back and forth as both friends and foes. We have common interests and we have competing interests. And that’s true whether we’re at home, collaborating with our spouses, whether we’re at work working on a group project but then competing for recognition or promotion or raises. And it’s certainly true on the international stage as we see in our relationships, say, with Canada or China or even North Korea. We’re both collaborating to achieve some common goals and we’re competing on others.
O’Leary: When you mention international politics, does negotiation look different there or are the fundamental principles still the same?
Schweitzer: With a lot of key fundamental principles that apply broadly, we need to prepare for negotiations, we need to make sure we build rapport. There are a lot of key fundamentals that are common across every domain. There are some things that are different. You know, one thing, the stakes can be quite high on the international stage.
Schweitzer: So the arc is also much longer. So we have a past history and we have a future that are likely to outlast the particular actors in that negotiation. In many cases on the international stage, there are many different players. These are almost always multiparty negotiations with many people, many countries that might not even be present but they’re all going to be affected by that negotiation.
O’Leary: Well, so in that case how much does an individual leader’s management style play into how they negotiate? Does it matter when we are talking about something that could conceivably last for a century or more?
Schweitzer: It does. And I think that the personalities matter, and I think as we saw in this case, there’s something very special about a face-to-face meeting where the way we behave face to face is quite different from how we might behave at a distance. At a distance, we might be more critical, we might use harsher language. But face to face, most people, and I think that includes our current leadership, most people are far more conciliatory, much friendlier face to face.
O’Leary: So I want to ask you about this aspect of sort of competition or cooperation. I’m going to read a quote from the president about his management style saying, “It’s give and take, but it’s got to be mostly take, because you can’t give — you gotta mostly take.” Can you mostly take or does there have to be give?
Schweitzer: Well, you know, you can’t — both sides can’t mostly take —
O’Leary: That as a zero-sum game.
Schweitzer: At some point. And I think, you know, here’s something that’s interesting, that the premise of being a friend and a foe is that we’re both collaborating and competing, and we’re scanning our environment in every situation that we’re in. We’re trying to look for cues that give us a sense of “Hey, are we mostly cooperating here or are we mostly competing here?” Which one? How do I oscillate between these? Which one’s going to dominate? And I think Donald Trump often views the world through a very competitive landscape. So, the Republicans versus the Democrats, or me versus somebody else, or in trade somebody is winning, somebody is losing. So I think that quote that you just read reflects putting the strong will toward the competitive point, and that makes negotiations difficult. I mean, it’s really made the NAFTA negotiations, the TPP negotiations, our relations with the G-7, our relations with Canada — it makes things much harder, because when we point ourselves toward competition, we’re likely to get a reciprocal push.
O’Leary: What is the cost of screwing up a negotiation, getting it wrong?
Schweitzer: Well, there’s a lot of cost of getting it wrong. It could be that we just miss opportunities. So it could be there’s an opportunity for peace or an opportunity for greater collaboration. We just miss that opportunity. It could also be worse than that. That is, we start off in one path and we take a potential collaboration and we wreck those chances. So I think, you know, most recently, relationships with Canada have substantially deteriorated where I think part of it reflects a failure in perspective-taking where the Trump administration thought that we should rebalance trade with Canada, slapping tariffs on their aluminum and steel. The justification for doing that was made on national security grounds. And I think we failed to appreciate how upset the Canadians were in that they saw us as close allies. They’ve fought shoulder to shoulder with us throughout many conflicts and now to be perceived as a national security threat, which is how we technically classify them, to put on those tariffs, I think we failed to appreciate how much of a relationship rupture that is.
O’Leary: You know, one of the subtitles of your book is “how to succeed at both,” when you’re talking about when to cooperate and when to compete. And I guess I’m wondering, what are the takeaways that we should think about when we’re negotiating in terms of how to succeed at negotiations in all aspects of our lives?
Schweitzer: Well, one thing recognizes the sort of first step that we’re both collaborating and competing. In every relationship, you know, with your spouse, there’s still some competition about who’s emptying the dishwasher, who’s waking up the kids —
O’Leary: (Laughs) True.
Schweitzer: And we have some elements of competition. And to gloss over that is to fail to recognize that there is a more nuanced relationship that we have. And I think with our relationships with China, is China a competitor or a collaborator? And the answer is they’re really both, and we need to figure out what framework we want to use rather than thinking about some simple phrase of, you know, “China is our rival.” That might miss opportunities for collaboration.