What negotiators can learn from dealing with Columbian rebels...

Last week, Columbian rebels released a top military general and two other hostages they had captured 14 days earlier.  Amazingly, the release came as a direct result of NOT negotiating.


Conventional mediation and academic negotiation wisdom would suggest that the best way to resolve a crisis is to engage with the other side, explore their issues, find common ground and to use time and cautious trading to talk them around to a mutually satisfactory outcome.

It appears that the Columbian Government is made of sterner stuff.


The FARC rebels and the Columbian government had been engaged in lengthy peace talks for some time.  As soon as General Rubén Darío Alzate and his staff were captured, the Columbian President broke off all peace negotiations with the clear message that talks would only be resumed if the commander of the counterinsurgency troops was released unharmed.


Very quickly, FARC recognised that their interests were better served by re-engaging with the peace talks, rather than holding on to its hostages.  Their aggressive move was very effectively countered by the passive-agressive response of withdrawing from negotiations altogether.


When the other side turns up the heat to get what they want, don't reward their bad behaviour by gently exploring what else they would like in the negotiation and what common issues you might have.


When the other side behaves badly or makes unreasonable demands, think about blocking their unreasonable demand by attaching an equally unreasonable price (tit-for-tat) or simply pack your bags, leaving a number to call when they want to talk again.  Of course, if you don't want to break it off, you can always give them what they want, but attach terms that make that concession acceptable to you.


Have you been in a situation where the other side suddenly raised the stakes dramatically?  What did you do?


Dr Matt Lohmeyer,
Negotiation Partners