An open letter to Brexit negotiators

Dear Brexit negotiators,

March 29th, 2017 – and so it begins!  Article 50 has been “triggered” by British Prime Minister, Theresa May, which sets in motion a two-year negotiating process for Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).  In her letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council of heads of EU governments, Ms. May said seven times that she wants a “deep and special partnership” with the EU.  Hopefully, that will be possible given that the letter also contained some veiled threats, e.g. reduced contributions to European intelligence and security.

Here’s what The Economist had to say when Article 50 was “triggered”:

“A discussion that has so far mainly been among parties at home will now shift to the real battleground, between Britain and its EU partners.”

I’ve used the word “triggered” above because it is commonly used when talking about invoking Article 50.  The Economist uses the phrase “real battleground” in the quote above, and as someone who finds words to be powerful framers of reality, I find this type of language disheartening.  How, for example, can we use “real battleground” in the same sentence as our “EU partners”?  Can we frame this process differently?

There is no doubt that the Brexit negotiation process is going to be contentious; there is so much at stake for the EU and Britain.  Given that the stakes are so high why not frame the process as a collaboration rather than a battleground.  Complex problems need to be solved using the best minds available, and problems rarely get solved satisfactorily in face-to-face confrontation – in fact positions tend to be hardened.  What about side-by-side problem-solving, i.e. collaboration.

In tough negotiations, it is very easy to become trapped in pre-defined ‘positions’ and fail to look for common interests.  Position-based negotiations can go around and around in highly-charged, dysfunctional circles that produce nothing of value.  A well-managed collaboration is aimed at creating something of value that the individual parties could not have created on their own.  But how to manage a collaboration well?

In our admittedly smaller world of organizational performance improvement, we focus client teams on six performance zones needed for collaborative success.  Without high performance in each one of the zones, a team’s results will be sub-optimal.  There is no reason why Brexit negotiators cannot adopt a similar framework and vocabulary for working together most effectively.

Six Cs of Collaboration

Cooperation: We approach the collaboration with mindsets and norms of behavior that foster goodwill and mutual trust, e.g. keeping our promises to each other.

Convergence: We find common interests beneath our stated positions and create a shared vision to guide our joint goal-setting and prioritizing.

Coordination: We establish clear and shared operating agreements for how we work together, e.g. how we share information, and how we make decisions.

Capability: We look for and leverage the talent and expertise – within the team or outside – that can help us achieve outstanding and sustainable results.

Communication: We work very hard to ensure we fully understand one another, i.e. we minimize ambiguity, and check continually for shared meanings.

Cultural Intelligence: We respect each other’s differences, and we look for the potential value each perspective and approach can bring to our work.

Periodically, an EU negotiation team could check its performance against these Six Cs of Collaboration, e.g. “How well are we doing in developing goodwill and mutual trust.  If we are not doing so well, let’s take a few moments to see what strategies can help us improve.”

I ask as a citizen of the world for Brexit negotiators to ignore the language of ‘triggers’ and ‘battlefields’, and to adopt a vocabulary of creative and disciplined collaboration.  A “deep and special relationship” cannot emerge from the language of conflict.

Sincerely,

Terence Brake

Director, Learning & Innovation

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About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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