Nothing but negotiation

 
 
Negotiation

Negotiating Collective Agreements

 

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Jonathan Foyle

Hello, and welcome to Nothing but Negotiation. Today I'm joined by Graham Botwright, Partner at the global negotiation specialists The Gap Partnership to discuss the delicate process and strategy of negotiating collective agreements.

Graham, any agreement involving a trade union is seen as a battlefield, why?

Graham Botwright

That's a very good question Jonathan, I think we need to understand some of the history around where trade unionism has come from; and if we look at industrialisation, it generally causes large corporate entities who of course have a lot of power, or perceived power over their employees. The employees form together through solidarity into a trade union to try and level that balance of power.

JF

So there are massive organisations representing very many livelihoods, so I guess there's a very emotional complex at stake when negotiations begin?

GB

I think that's absolutely true and what we find is very often the stakeholders involved in the negotiation are themselves representatives of a collective body or an organization. The shareholders therefore have quite an emotional and political agenda that they have to follow and this means the stakes are very high for them personally. It's important to understand that employee relations is a negotiation and all negotiations are a ritual. Automatically the two parties will have different, if not opposing goals, it is important therefore to understand there is a ritual to go through. You can imagine if I was to be your trade union representative and I went into a negotiation, and I came out after 10 minutes saying to you, "great news Jonathan, I've got you a fantastic deal", you'd probably feel a little short changed, you want me to go through the pain of that negotiation and the conflict in order to look after your best interests, and therefore we have to understand that some of this conflict is healthy and part of the ritual.

JF

But it's also a very, highly public pain, isn't it? Because these negotiations are a very often on national news.

GB

Well, of course if they go wrong, and we fail to reach that agreement, yes they can become very public and that can be very damaging for the brand of the organization, and the brand of the trade union and it's employees and members. What we don't see is on a day-to-day basis almost all negotiations, trade union or employee relations, are happening where people are getting collaborative and working together and resolving things relatively pain free. They don't make such great headlines, though.

JF

So, Graham, give me a real life example then of some of the issues that face negotiating collective agreements.

GB

There are many examples and I guess one example which is quite topical is in the US and very high profile, where we see the National Football League, the NFL, we see sports agents, collectively leaving the agreements they do with the NFL much later, in fact each season it seems to get right up to the day of the game before they sign the contract. What we would suggest is that negotiators use artificial time pressures to get the deal done much earlier in the process.

JF

So, in that particular case, leaving the deal so late leaves your audience in doubt as to whether you can deliver or not, and that has got to be bad news.

GB

Of course that's absolutely true, but even more importantly as the minutes tick down the power wings more in favour of the footballers, and away from the NFL and the deal therefore they get is often a much better one, which is of course why the agents do so.

JF

So, final question Graham, three top tips for a negotiator of collective agreements.

GB

OK, well first of all, always know what you're trying to achieve and really understand the outcomes you need. Secondly, preparation, and thirdly, always go into the negotiation with a "how" mentality, rather than a "no" mentality.

JF

Graham, thank you very much.

GB

Thank you, Jonathan.