A Mindful Approach to Negotiations – Revelations from Alice in Wonderland

I have been following, with great interest over recent days, the articles that have appeared in the press about the position papers issued by the UK officials ahead of the third round of BREXIT negotiations. In particular, the UK’s proposals regarding the future border checks, that would be introduced, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – described by European negotiators as ‘magical thinking.’

I was struck, when reading the headlines about ‘magical thinking’ by the similarities that exists between Theresa May and her negotiating team, navigating their way through what appears to them to be a crazy European world, and the adventures Alice faced when she was overcome by curiosity, and followed the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

One of the many adventures experienced by Alice was the extraordinary Mad Hatters tea party, and the advice the Mad Hatter shared with Alice is equally pertinent for Theresa May and her team as they prepare for the forthcoming BREXIT negotiations:

‘You see what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants a magical solution to their problems, and everyone refuses to believe in magic.’

An EU spokesperson has accused the UK officials of ‘magical thinking’ in their position paper relating to the Northern Ireland border issue, along with being ‘short on workable solutions’ and slow in their progress due to ‘a lack of substance’. The perception of the UK’s position by their EU counterparts appears to be one of strange, crazy or perhaps, even weird behaviour. On this occasion, the Cheshire Cat comes to the UK’s rescue who informs Alice:

‘I’m not strange, weird, off, or crazy. My reality is just different from yours.’

Maybe, if Theresa May took on board this observation by the Cheshire Cat , and began to tease out these apparent differences in perception, and creating a compelling narrative to help illustrate the alternative UK perspective more clearly, in ways that make sense to the EU officials, positive progress may …magically ..begin to happen..if they all believe….in magic.

A lack of belief, by both teams, appears to be in short supply, as the UK accuse the EU of failing to ‘properly understand the sensitivities or appreciate the human cost’ associated with the UK’s position and conclude by declaring, ‘this is not a game’. Yet to the lay observer, both teams appear to be involved in petty political games playing, regardless of the impact on the ordinary citizen of the UK and Europe – focused more on their own ego, and personal success, rather than what is best for everyday folk.

It feels that one side must win at all costs and be viewed as the ‘victor’ over the other, who can then be declared by the ‘winner’ as …the ‘loser’ – is this really the best way to achieve a positive outcome on something so life changing for us all? Have we learned nothing from historical events which have been so graphically shared on TV over the past week regarding the barbaric partitioning of India and Pakistan 70 years ago with such devastating human tragedy? Are similar mistakes from the past, masked by a venire of grey suited bureaucracy, going to be needlessly inflicted on the peoples of modern day Europe?   Both teams appear to be lacking in mutual respect and belief of each other which are pre-requisites if any meaningful progress is to be made in forthcoming negotiations. However, inspiration can be taken from the conversation between the Unicorn and Alice in which the following exchange takes place:

‘’Well, now that we have seen each other’ said the Unicorn, ‘if you believe in me, I’ll believe in you – is that a bargain?’

‘Yes, if you like,’ said Alice’’.

Without the basic foundations of belief, by both teams, that positive progress can be achieved, and mutual understanding of each others’ perspective acknowledged, magical thinking will never be accomplished – neither party wants to believe in each other – the same old results will emege. Lewis Caroll reminds us:

‘One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.’

So, taking this advice on board, here is what I want to do to positively move forward the BREXIT negotiations in a way that I consider would benefit the ordinary citizen of Europe, and make the negotiations worth doing.

I am prepared to offer the negotiators from both teams free coaching in Mindful Negotiations, part of the service offer from the Mindful HR Centre. I am committed to making this experience the best it can possibly be and move both teams away from conducting negotiations as if it were ‘some sort of game’, with a strategy of ‘win at all costs over the other’ as its central mantra.

Here are the headlines for a Mindful approach to negotiations:

  1. No judgement by either party
  2. Embrace information presented from more than your own perspective – being open to creativity
  3. Letting go of ego – remembering you are here to serve to greater community not yourself

This is by no means easy – otherwise they would be doing it already…it is far easier to have a fixed mindset; be judgemental; seek to blame the other party for failure; take an aggressive stance; be pessimistic and ego driven. The closer the negotiators are to a situation, their ego will inevitably cloud their judgement – as demonstrated by progress made to date. I am not advocating that it is necessary for those involved to be blindly optimistic or blinkered by pessimism – the answer, as ever, lies by seeking to find a balance that can be accommodate by all. As the Unicorn reminds us ‘If you believe in me, I’ll believe in you.’

I will work tirelessly with the teams to ensure we create an environment of mutual respect, belief and understanding – encouraging parties to look beyond the original question or problem – cultivating an awareness that everyone’s brain will be battling to cloud their judgement with its desire to win at the expense of someone else and replace this behaviour with a desire to seek out a creative outcome that will benefit all.

During Alice’s time in Wonderland she grew in confidence and became willing to be more creative and adventurous – less prepared to be manipulated and more willing to try out new experiences – this took courage, self awareness and confidence, a willingness to listen, see things from alternative view points and preparedness to experiment. These lessons are so appropriate to the challenges Theresa May and her team are facing – if they genuinely do want what is best for the everyday folk of the UK then something different needs to happen, both in approach and mindset – let me support you to experiment and be adventurous in the future BREXIT negotiations, and allow some ‘magical thinking’ to happen.