It’s interesting how the £50bn EU “exit bill” has now become the number which, whether the UK government like it or not, is mentioned, over and over again. Nobody seems to know quite where the number comes from, and it doesn’t really matter – it might as well be, to quote the Leave campaigner Ian Duncan Smith, “complete bonkers”. The reason why it doesn’t matter is that the number now exists in the mind of everyone who has heard it – especially the players who will be involved in this negotiation. It is therefore likely to become the starting position, the number around which the negotiation is likely to take place. A benchmark. In Negotiation jargon this is called “the anchor”. Everything that follows will be measured, consciously or unconsciously, against this figure.
Notwithstanding the fact that Negotiation is not a science, it’s fair to say that it is usually a good idea, before the start of the negotiation proper, to give the other party a number to consider, as this could condition their expectations. It’s usually an extreme figure, something that allows you plenty of room to move from.
What about when the other party puts a number on the table first? Well, in this case, talk about a different figure, start doing so as soon as possible. The more you mention theirs, even if you are criticising it, the more real it becomes, thus it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. And even subconsciously, you will be bench-marking your offer against it, so it could limit your ambition. Not a good thing. So, the best thing the UK negotiators could do now is talk about a completely different number, rather than keep protesting about the 50bn. Get another number out there. On TV, on the radio, in the press, on line. This will be the number the UK negotiators should then move from, not that other figure… what was it again? I can’t remember… That’s the other thing – never mention the other party’s number in a negotiation – only ever talk about yours.
It’s interesting to note that this technique is not usually used between partners, it’s much more likely to be used in hard bargaining negotiation scenarios – which gives us a flavour of the climate of the negotiation which David Davis and his team are walking into.
Best of British, as my wife from Yorkshire would say.