There is hope. There is hope that your negotiation can be successful. There is hope that the toughest of negotiators you have to face can come on-side. There is hope that the most intransigent, the most aggressive, the most personally abusive of counterparties can become your ally. There is hope that the most pathologically win-lose types can become win-win. There is hope that wars can become peace. There is hope that all conflicts can be resolved.
My reasoning? My shining example? Northern Ireland.
Anyone above a certain age will remember a time when centuries of war and hatred made such an act seem impossible. On the one hand, you had Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and on the other, the Reverend Ian Paisley, sworn mortal enemies of each other. Such was their mutual hatred, it became known as the diplomacy of “Never! Never! Never!”. Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday Peace Agreement, said the first words he heard Paisley say were “No! No! No!”.
And yet, remarkably, somehow, the parties allowed themselves to be led on a journey that took them from violence to collaboration. Mitchell’s book, “Making Peace”, describes the process as 3 years of failure, one day of success. Fortunately, that one day was the last day, the day where all parties signed the Agreement.
And from there, the journey continued. The Reverend Ian Paisley became the First Minister, Martin McGuinness his Deputy. They shared an office, they worked together. They formed a successful relationship, they became known as The Chuckle Brothers, such was the laughter in their press conferences. When Paisley retired, McGuinness would ring him up, to ask for advice and just to see how he was.
Now, of course, there are still troubles in Northern Ireland, no one is claiming it has become heaven on earth. There is still a way to go on the journey. When McGuinness shook hands with the Queen, he wished her well but he did so in Gaelic. Relations are not yet normal.
But troubles are not Troubles and those are now history and that, in itself, is miraculous. There were genuine smiles when the two met. McGuinness, once the leader of the IRA, and Queen Elizabeth, whose cousin, Lord Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb; both visibly enjoying the moment and what it represented.
So the next time you are negotiating with someone and you think they are being difficult, the next time you find yourself in a conflict, think of this example.
There is hope.