The old adage that a week is a long time in politics was never truer than in the last seven days. Following the EU referendum result, it was widely assumed that Boris Johnson would be the most likely Brexit candidate to replace David Cameron, with Michael Gove taking up a senior role in the cabinet. And yet, despite repeatedly stating in the past that he did not possess the qualities required of a Prime Minster, last Thursday morning Michael Gove dropped the bombshell: with just hours to go before formal nominations closed at noon on Thursday, he announced that in fact he no longer believed Boris Johnson was the right man for the job, and that he would launch his own bid to be the next prime minister. Shortly after, Johnson announced that he was pulling out of the leadership election.
The Westminster Village is rife with conspiracy theories as to exactly what happened between the two men and why, and I am not going to add my own to the list. Maybe in time the truth will surface, although it is unlikely. However, if we just stick to the facts before us, from a negotiation perspective, what happened between Gove and Johnson highlights a useful insight which is worth reflecting on for a moment.
Negotiation is situational – there are collaborative and competitive negotiation scenarios, driven by a range of circumstances, strategies and behaviours. However, what last week shows is just how quickly things can change.
As long as two parties need to collaborate, they will. In this case, Johnson and Gove in the last few months have needed to work together to drive the Brexit campaign – Johnson as the popular front man, Gove providing the intellectual rigour to the campaign. And yet, within days of victory, having achieved the result they wanted, the partnership ends in divorce.
When value has been created by two parties, the two then need to agree how the spoils will be divided, and this is when the strength of their partnership is tested. Consider for example the friction that too often features in the relationship between suppliers and retailers – isn’t it created by the problem of how to share the value which together the two parties have created from the consumer?
So, how can you stop this from happening? How can you keep the partnership from reverting back to a competitive-style of negotiation (assuming of course this is not your intention)? My advice is, try to understand each other’s interests and find complementary sources of value to help resolve the problem of conflicting objectives. This takes communication, creativity and above all a desire to protect the trust that has been created. This is especially difficult, and especially crucial, at times of pressure. If the parties are unable to do this, the negotiation will inevitably become tougher and distributive, and the biggest casualty is likely to be trust. Few things are as difficult to build as trust, especially when someone has had their fingers burned.
It will be interesting to see how Gove’s behaviour toward both his friend and boss David Cameron and his campaign partner Boris Johnson will have affected his Trust Rating within the Conservative party and therefore his chances of becoming Prime Minster.
When the two parties want exactly the same thing and are unwilling to compromise, as might be when they want the same job, you are in a Win-Lose negotiation. In 1994 Tony Blair and Gordon Brown allegedly tried to come to a deal over the leadership of the Labour Party (the famous “Granita pact”), but whether in the long term both men stuck to the deal and were satisfied with the outcome remains a moot point to this day…