The Truth about Negotiations

ATHENS – When people and countries negotiate, they often talk about their interests as though they were the only matters that could elicit agreement. In casting his veto at the European Union’s December summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “What is on offer isn’t in Britain’s interests, so I didn’t agree to it,” as if agreement solely depended upon whether or not interests were satisfied.

Then again, reaching an agreement might never have been Cameron’s goal. While so-called “win-win” outcomes are increasingly considered to be the ultimate purpose of every negotiation, what if the negotiating parties contemplate a win-win outcome that actually harms non-participants to the talks, or is against the law? What if the outcome is beneficial but contrary to the principles of the negotiating parties?