Businesspeople often treat their negotiations as a matter of life and death, even when they really aren't. However, what would happen if the stakes were higher than a handful of jobs, the price of a majority stock option, or even the future of an entire company? Here are seven real-life negotiations, some between companies, between law enforcement and criminals, and even entire nations, that offer powerful lessons for modern negotiators on how to deal with the intractable, the absurd, and even the unthinkable in your next board meeting or contract negotiation!
1) D.B. Cooper
Dan "D.B." Cooper made himself a household name on Thanksgiving Eve of 1971, when he bought an airplane ticket in Portland, Oregon bound for Seattle, Washington. Aboard the plane, he handed one of the flight attendants a note saying that he had a bomb in his briefcase and demanding $200,000 and two parachutes. The note stated if the crew and authorities failed to comply, he would detonate the bomb and kill the thirty-six people aboard. The captain negotiated the release of all the passengers and one of the flight attendants, leaving only four people and Cooper aboard. He received the money, the parachutes, and leapt from the plane in the Oregon wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again.
2) The Iran Hostage Crisis
In 1971, 444 days after a group of US diplomats were taken prisoner by Iranian freedom fighters at the US Embassy, they were finally released. Over a year of negotiations failed, prompting the US military to attempt an extraction. This operation was a miserable failure, taking a toll of nine lives and two crashed aircraft, as well as untold property damage. The Algerian government ultimately broke the deadlock by negotiating the deal known as the Algiers Accords, which were ratified by Iran and America the day before President Ronald Reagan took office.
3) The Cuban Missile Crisis
In October 1962, the civilized world's greatest fear was the threat of nuclear war. When American president John F. Kennedy became aware that the Soviet Union was intent on bringing missiles into the island nation of Cuba, only 9 miles off the Florida coast, the ensuing diplomatic and military windup left much of the world watching breathlessly to see if the two superpowers would collide. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev managed to broker a deal that kept nuclear weapons off Cuba in exchange for the dismantling of American missile positions in Turkey and elsewhere near the Soviet Union's borders.
4) The Scottish National Party
The Yanks don't have a monopoly on understating absurdity, as the bluster about Scotland's independence from the UK within the next sixteen months demonstrates. In addition to a number of other hurdles, pundits estimate that Scotland would have to negotiate over 14,000 different treaties and points of law to become a full-fledged free nation, with entry into NATO and the European Union. Even proud Scots like Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democratic leader, believe this estimate is well short of the reality they can anticipateâ€¦if it's possible at all. Negotiations are ongoing, accompanied by a fair amount of bluster and bluff on both sides of the debate.
5) Caterpillar Labor Talks
Unions are not as powerful in the US as they once were, but that doesn't mean they can't still take a bite out of large companies. Caterpillar, one of the world's best-known producers of heavy machinery for the construction, agriculture, and trucking industries has been under fire by a handful of different unions for attempts to change the timbre of existing contracts with their workers. Union leaders and employees are virulently opposed to Caterpillar's terms, which they say give the company too much power over union members and too many options for damaging workers financially. Caterpillar, naturally, rejects these arguments, saying the terms they offered are fair and reasonable and that their rejection by workers is mystifying.
6) Iran Nuclear Weapons Talks
Iranian belligerence hit a new high two years ago when the country claimed to have obtained nuclear weapons capability. Levels of negotiation from diplomatic soft-shoeing to all-out threats against Iran if they proceed with nuclear experimentation have come from around the world. Iran states it is interested in negotiating, but claims that "we're being asked to make all the sacrifices," a claim that the US, China, Russia, and the UK, among others, have rejected out of hand.
7) "Fiscal Cliff" Negotiations
The US Congress has proven its ineptitude at managing money time and again, and this latest debacle only puts extra emphasis on the problem. This series of negotiations, aimed at balancing the American budget, became a circus of partisan politics and defense of pet projects for both sides of the political aisle. Federal budget cuts took effect on March 1st as a direct result of Congressional failure to achieve a balanced budget by that time. The lesson here? When neither party is willing to give something up, everyone loses.
This article was supplied by Josh Hervall, a blogger with a keen interest in negotiation. He writes for www.thegappartnership.com, experts in business negotiation.