Intra and Inter-Government negotiation is probably the most complex of all negotiations.

According to a famous Amazon book review, almost everyone has faced the frustrating task of negotiating with government-local, state, national, or foreign-at some point in their lives. Whether they are applying for a building permit from their local building authority, trying to sell software solutions to the local government, looking for approval for a business merger, or planning to set up a business in UAE or Angola, negotiators confront a unique set of challenges when dealing with any form of government. Distinguished author, professor and negotiation expert Jeswald Salacuse explains the ways in which negotiating with government is very different from private negotiation. In his book “Seven Secrets for Negotiating with Government”, he addresses the key variables involved: from the influence of bureaucracy to the perception of power on the government side of the negotiating table. The only book of its kind, this invaluable guide offers succinct, realistic, and accessible advice to help readers recognize the often-hidden interests driving government negotiators and how to use that knowledge to their advantage. Filled with real-life examples, this book will show businesspeople everywhere how to navigate the complex world of government and win.

According to an article in CONCORD, the author’s central argument is that individuals seeking to engage with governments require special skills, techniques and strategies to succeed. The author makes three key assumptions, which are also the basis on which the book is written. First, the primary method for individuals and organisations to deal with most governments is negotiation. Second, the author considers a negotiation with government as being different from other kinds of negotiations. Underpinning this assumption is the definition of government as an institution with special powers and special constraints. Third, he assumes that despite differences in cultures and political systems, all governments – be they at central or local level – perceive and conduct negotiations in similar ways.

Contrary to common perceptions that governments are monolithic structures, it is important that those seeking to engage with governments further unpack this complexity. In reality, the author notes that governments constitute individuals, departments, units and sectors that have competing– and, in some cases, conflicting – interests, and that it is at this level that negotiations should be pegged. In this regard, finding the correct unit or department to reach out to, and identifying the right official to talk to, are fundamental steps of any preparation for a negotiation process. In addition, it is equally important to conduct an analysis of the multiple interests within a particular agency or department, and what the points of convergence or compromise could be. Internally, this would call for a strong strategy, with goals and options identified, and a carefully constituted team, approaching the negotiations from an interest-based perspective. Externally, the emphasis would be on relationship-building, consultation and the fostering of a positive negotiation environment.

The CONCORD article further observes that the author suggests tools for effective negotiation with governments, using the power of precedents as well as the powers of written material, of framing and of relationship-building, while recognising that governments don’t like surprises. Reaching out to a third party for assistance is presented as a strategy, that is informed by an evaluation of resources (including information and expertise) needed to make the negotiation successful. This third party could play any of the following roles: an advisor, a negotiation support or agent, a lobbying force, an ally, a participant, a mediator or an arbitrator. The author emphasises the general rules of diplomacy applicable and central to the negotiation process with governments – starting with the necessity of constant negotiation and moving on to the importance of being an apt listener, of keeping one’s goal in mind, of remaining flexible and patient, and of continuously showing respect. Not only do these rules apply to negotiating with government, but also apply to strategies used in different spaces for building and nurturing relationships.

Having debunked the myth of governments being monolithic, and having provided tools for assisting in negotiation processes, the author further outlines why negotiations with governments are unique. The difference between government and other stakeholders is highlighted through its special powers and special constraints. The CONCORD article observes that the author outlines four powers: the power of monopoly, the power of privilege and immunity, the power of representing the public interest, and the power of protocol and form. These are then linked with special constraints, the first one being the negotiation rules that the government is subject to; second, the importance of constituents (which might not always be apparent); third, the issue of political imperative; and fourth, the operational norms affecting revenues, resources and objectives. Understanding the political imperative within government requires looking at government both from an organisational perspective and from a human-centred approach. For instance, when considering who to talk to, one should be able to identify different people within government – from elected politicians to political appointees or bureaucrats – as negotiators. Strategies employed should seek to identify the competing interests that an individual might have, including political interests. One interesting consequence of these complexities is the fact that no agreement or deal with government is presented as everlasting, with the understanding that the state can revoke a deal at any time “on the grounds of protecting national sovereignty, national security or the public welfare”. In this regard, renegotiation becomes a continuous strategy, made easier by the increased mutual knowledge, understanding and linkages built through the first negotiation. The author encourages practitioners seeking to engage with governments to perceive renegotiation as a positive aspect, which “plays a constructive role in human relations at all levels”.

According to CONCORD, the book provides useful insights into understanding the complexity of engaging with governments, particularly from a negotiation perspective. The interest-based approach and focus on relationship-building is critical and central to peacebuilding and conflict prevention in the government space. This is because conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts seek to promote trust, confidence and national ownership, and ensure sustainability through consensus and relationship-building in inter and intra government dealings.

By providing concrete tools and recommendations, the author provides a reader-friendly guide and manual for planning engagement with government entities. The general approach of the book is also complemented by country-specific examples, drawn from the author’s research and experiences. Jeswald Salacuse is also the author of several other books, namely “Real Leaders Negotiate!”, “ Negotiating Life”, “ Making Global Deals” and” The Global Negotiator”


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