This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Clingendael 1 LibDems 0

"Would you buy a second-hand car from Mr. Clegg? In the end, it depends on how desperate you are to get on the road..."

With a group of eager-to-learn postgraduate students on an MA Programme in International Relations, I recently undertook a one-day crash course in negotiation at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations at Clingendael.

Here’s what I learnt.

First, zero-sum negotiations are hard. What you gain, I lose - and trust is a problem. It’s like buying a second-hand car from a stranger. What we really want is positive-sum or ‘integrative’ negotiation. I trade what I value less for what you value less and vice versa. We package different issues so that we can both win. That’s all pretty straightforward.

Slightly less intuitive is the route to optimising the outcome when the negotiating partners have unequal resources. The weaker party may maximise their own benefits by allowing the stronger party to take more. Looking for equality may be sub-optimal for the weaker party.

For all of this to work, however, there are some background conditions that need to be secured: a clear negotiating mandate, clear priorities, commitment to a relationship that extends across time, measurable outputs. Could any of this help Mr Clegg on the neatly-chiselled points of his painful dilemma?

It’s clear that the junior partner in any negotiation can overplay his hand – and end up with nothing (or, rather, nothing more than he began with). But, of course, the senior partners also have a very great deal to lose in walking away.

Uncertainty has a place in any real world negotiation but in Mr Clegg’s circumstances this is multiplex almost to the point of bewilderment. It’s possible to lose and the stakes are very high but the value of a win may justify some very high-risk behaviour.

Would you buy a second-hand car from Mr. Clegg? In the end, it depends on how desperate you are to get on the road.

Professor Chris Pierson

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