Greece: Negotiation or Conflict Management

“Athens stumbles towards Grexit” was a headline in last weekend’s newspapers as talks concerning the Greek debt repayments collapsed. We have yet to see how the story plays out as Alexis Tsiparas, the Greek prime minister, now appears to have accepted creditors terms with minor concessions but Germany is unlikely to agree to anything until after the Greeces’s referendum today.

Underlying all this is the notion that we are seeing negotiations. Well they may be, but they are far from good negotiations. They are asymmetric and nobody could fail to notice the disparity of power between Germany and Greece. The outcome will be far from satisfactory for Greece or anyone else. It will fuel further resentment and create instability in Europe, which is the very outcome that the EU was conceived to avoid.

The real problem is two fold. The Greeks know they have huge problems with institutionalised corruption across society. They know they have to reform but cannot do so against the backdrop of imposed, crippling austerity that fuels even wider corruption.

merkelThis type of situation is quite common in business and organisations. Disputes between asymmetric parties can become toxic surprisingly quickly. The usual route to resolution is through either a logic based or adversarial approaches. Neither is likely to be sustainable and both can cause serious damage to all parties.

The solution is to use a conflict management approach to first remove the toxicity and then support the parties to achieve a consensual win/win situation. It works well with businesses and organisations and there is no reason why it would not work at governmental level. It’s just a question of dealing with people, agendas and alliances.

The problem would be to find an impartial and neutral organisation to mediate, if we rule out any eurozone members, direct creditors and share holders in the IMF. The mediator also has to be acceptable to all parties so that would probably rule out China and Russia.

Greece and its creditors have a “wicked” problem but a long term sustainable agreement could be reached using a conflict management approach rather than through asymmetric negotiation. The same is true for businesses and organisations.

greek national guard

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