Sorry to have been a bit quiet, folks. I have been in Vienna with ADRg Ambassadors giving negotiation training to Senior Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

These Inspectors have a unique and important job, namely to help check what is going on out there in the world’s civilian nuclear reactors and so help prevent improper proliferation of nuclear weapons and/or dangerous materials and technology. This involves visiting sites around the planet and running all sorts of technical and other checks to confirm to the world community that all is in order.

Clearly some cases are not easy. Such as Iran, where the Iranians have a specific view on what ‘full cooperation’ with IAEA requirements means. Or North Korea. Indeed, part of the tough top-level international diplomacy in both these cases is all about agreeing the political and other conditions for allowing the IAEA to do its job.

Nevertheless, plenty of other civilian nuclear facilities around the world also present the Inspectors with tricky issues to resolve – not all facilities are visited frequently, so the people who run them may have very different expectations for what parts of a facility and its processes an IAEA team may or may not look at.

Courses such as these (and the challenge of writing realistic and interesting roleplays beforehand) bring out an important reality about how diplomats usually negotiate.

Namely Carrots and Sticks. If you do what we want, something nice will happen. If you don’t, expect something bad.

This is, of course, a very mechanistic way of looking at the world. Although it suits politicians who need to present their response to most problems in this banal way to project what they see as resolve and toughness, even in theory Carrots/Sticks are problematic.

What if the object of the policy does not in fact like or need carrots? Or they are too far away to be interesting? Or he thinks that even if he responds as requested he won’t ever get that carrot?

What if the person threatened with the stick believes he is able to withstand pain for longer than the person wielding the stick is able or willing to deliver said pain? What if the stick is not as strong as it looks? Or, again, is too far away to be scary? Or if the person threatened is able to hit back with an even bigger and nastier stick of his own?

In short, the whole Carrot/Stick paradigm is fraught with ambiguity and psychological complexity.

In the IAEA’s case, there are few direct ‘threats’ the Inspectors can or should make to try to achieve their goals, other than (ultimately) to warn that if they are unable to complete their work satisfactorily they will have no choice but to say so to the UN and general world community. Which may lead  at best to embarrassment for the state concerned, at worst to sanctions and other forms of heavy international pressure. Where nuclear safety is concerned, most countries want to keep general standards up for obvious reasons of good order and self-interest – those countries which play in a sneaky or disruptive way with the agreed rules get little sympathy.

The ADRg Ambassadors training approach is all about getting away from crude, binary negotiating approaches and instead looking closely at the all-important psychological context, including how in fact on the day to be personally convincing and effective in a difficult negotiation.

This involves careful questioning – and careful listening. What is the other side saying? What is it saying when it is not speaking? What is it saying about issue X when it urges you to focus on issue Y? How best to hear what they are saying implicitly as well as explicitly – and to show that you are listening?

Our core advantage in giving courses like this one is that we can draw on our own professional mediation training as well as on all sorts of examples of what worked and what didn’t and why, from top-level international practice at the UN, EU, NATO and many tough bilateral encounters. Such as this one.

And once again the course was very well received: "we just don’t get training courses described as ‘terrific’ "  

So if, as you surely do, you need well crafted, lively negotiation and other corporate diplomacy skills training from senior diplomats with a wealth of practical sharp-end experience, do what IAEA did.

Get in touch.