Power plays in red zone negotiations
If you’re negotiating in a high-stakes scenario (aka the ‘red zone’), it’s important to understand how to take advantage of strategic alliances and change perceptions of power. The red zone is the endgame of a negotiation. It’s when you can see what a resolution might look like, but you’re not quite there, your options are becoming limited, and every move is critical.
In this article we share our tips on how to change perceptions of power during the red zone. To help illustrate our points, we’ve taken a fresh look at the high-stakes interactions between the US and North Korea back in 2017.
Talking tough in North Korea
You may not remember, but between 2006 and 2017, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, authorised several missile and nuclear tests. Despite international condemnation, North Korea continued its missile-testing program, and many believed the program was aimed at developing long-range nuclear warheads.
Within this menacing geopolitical context, Trump emerged as a new player, who wanted to see the Korean Peninsula demilitarised. Keen to demonstrate a new approach to North Korea, he was also trying to enhance his position and change regional perceptions of power.
We can analyse Trump’s negotiating tactics to see how he used them to boost his position and change the power balance. You can use these same tactics in your own negotiations.
Tips for changing perceptions of power
- Use a third party and build an alliance. On becoming president, Trump ratcheted up his competitive or ‘red’ talk by highlighting various military, diplomatic, security and economic measures the US was taking in response to North Korea. He also hosted China’s President Xi Jinping at his private mansion, and soon after Trump’s staff started boasting of their new alliance against the rogue state of North Korea.
- Appeal to an authority that supports your case. When US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proclaimed that Xi Jinping had made a turnaround towards North Korea, he talked about the US and China’s emerging ‘shared view’. Tillerson said that President Jinping ‘clearly understands’ the threat of North Korea and there is now ‘no disagreement as to how dangerous the situation has become’.
We can view these statements from the US as a strategic attempt to alter perceptions of power. Historically, the US and China’s interests in North Korea were not always aligned. However, having China purportedly ‘on side’ was designed to create a powerful impression of strength and undermine North Korea.
- Give an ultimatum. In August 2017, Trump vowed to end Obama’s ‘strategic patience’ approach to North Korea. With China seemingly in agreement, the US could feel more emboldened to do so. And US efforts to communicate and build common ground with key regional powers also created an alignment of shared values. On the other hand, Trump signalled that the US had ‘spoken enough about North Korea’ and said the US would not directly engage with North Korean unless it stopped its nuclear program. By making this ultimatum and setting up an ‘apparent withdrawal’, we can see Trump trying to strengthen the US’s position.
- Make a sudden shift. During this tense period in history, we observed several sudden shifts in US decision-making. For example, in April 2017, Trump ordered the 100,000-ton USS Carl Vinson and support ships to the western Pacific as a show of force and threat. This kind of shift is provocative and heightens an atmosphere of unpredictability. We sometimes see ‘sudden shift’ behaviour in high-stakes negotiations. When used effectively, such wild cards can make havoc and undermine the other party.
How ENS can help
ENS consultants work with clients all over the world to help them learn how to negotiate effectively in high-stakes scenarios. Understanding how to take advantage of strategic alliances and change perceptions of power are critical for success.
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