The recent decision by Prince Harry and his wife, the former Meghan Markle, to step back from royal duties has provided endless fodder for royal watchers, commentators, and even Oprah. Was the move driven by a rift between the brothers? Was it a reflection of British society's racism? And just how much of a savvy PR operator is the 93-year old Queen?
But it's not just sociologists and gossips who have their eye on the saga the British tabloids dubbed 'Megxit.' Negotiation experts have been watching closely too. I recently received a fascinating email on the subject from professional mediator Carol Barkes.
The split, Barkes explained, offered useful lessons in negotiation because it was, from outside appearances at least, a mixed bag. Some of the couple's moves show a firm grasp of sound negotiating principles, while other aspects of the back and forth would have been handled differently by a pro. I emailed Barkes to ask for specific lessons 'Megxit' could offer those looking to hone their own negotiating skills. Here's what she sent me:
1. Don't triangulate
There may be a whirlwind of gossip and media coverage around Harry and Meghan, but Barkes praised them for largely staying out of it. "They did not speak ill of any of the royal family. They are taking the high road with the press," she notes.
In other words, they've focused on the parties actually involved in the dispute and haven't fanned the flames of the media storm with leaks or comments. This tight circle of focus is an approach Barkes recommends for anyone involved in a negotiation. Keep your attention on those actively involved in the situation rather than wasting energy on the storylines and opinions of others.
"We love our friends, family, and advocates for their undying support. That said, these same people can make our conflicts worse by only seeing our side and creating 'evil plot twists' that make us look better at the expense of the person with whom we are having the conflict. This tends to make matters more complicated and can skew the original points of contention. Ask your supporters to stand down and leave this matter to the parties involved," she recommends.
2. Build in a "what if" clause
Barkes reserves some of her strongest praise for the royals' decision to include a commitment to review the current terms of the agreement in the future. "I am thrilled there was a one year review written into the agreement so changes can easily be addressed," she writes,
It is an approach more negotiators should consider employing. "This is a fantastic way to test the waters and have the ability to make a new plan when the dust has settled and there is more time to review the impact of the decisions made," she adds.
3. Focus on needs not demands
In every negotiation there is both what you want (say a higher sales price) and why you want it (to satisfy your investors, for instance). Focusing exclusively on your demands and not on the needs that are driving them removes a lot of flexibility from the conversation and can quickly lead to an impasse. The royal family seems to have avoided this trap.
"When the news came out that Harry and Meghan were pulling back from the royal family, the conversation could have been very damaging to everyone involved if it had only focused on positions. It could have looked like, 'We are pulling back' vs. 'No, you are not, and if you do, you will be punished,'" she explains. "Instead, conversations surrounded the needs of all parties - for Harry and Meghan, privacy, freedom, autonomy, etc., for the royal family, pride, tradition, respect, honor, etc."
4. Negotiate in person
So what did Harry and Meghan do less well? Barkes was less pleased to hear that Meghan skipped the crisis meeting in which the final terms were hammered out and opted to phone in instead. Obviously, sometimes you just can't attend a negotiation in person, but if at all possible, show up.
"From a negotiation standpoint, it is always better to negotiate in person. It is harder to get someone to negotiate when they are not in the room as they are not experiencing the emotion or seeing the non-verbal communication. In short, one has a significant disadvantage," she writes.
5. Keep your optimism in check.
Barkes also offered mild criticism for Harry and Meghan's initial optimism about reaching a more hybrid 'half in-half out' deal, which led to them to slightly jump their gun with their first press statement.
"There appeared to be a bit of a surprise by Harry and Meghan in regard to the level of expected concessions they would be required to make. In negotiations, it is very important to not only consider what one is hoping to achieve but also fulling consider the best and worst case scenarios. We tend to minimize our worst case scenarios so it is important to really look at them carefully and see if the risk of losing is worth the reward," she advises.
But these minor points aside, Barkes is mainly positive about the negotiating prowess of everyone involved in the discussions. "This was a very collaborative negotiation process and I am pleased with how it played out, generally speaking," she concludes.
Which suggests we could all learn a thing or two from close observation of how Megxit played out.