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Wanna bet?

Ellis Croft
Negotiation Bet [Converted]
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News that one of Rishi Sunak’s aides allegedly placed a wager on the date of the general election mere days before it was announced is causing ripples in the already turbulent waters of the current news cycle. Of course, we must acknowledge – rightly – the presumption of innocence in this and all such cases, as a matter of principle. However, on the basis that Rishi Sunak was unlikely to have sprung the news of his decision on his inner circle out of the blue (it’s hard to imagine he told the cabinet and his aides at No. 10 on the day he made his announcement “just popping out for a pint of milk, BRB”, for example), the “routine inquiries” faced by the aide in question are likely to be uncomfortable for him, if not downright awkward.

People bet for all sorts of reasons – and they can be a very useful option open to negotiators as well. Many negotiations feature important variables that intrinsically depend on future conditions which are uncertain – how will supply chain pressures affect key variables such as delivery dates, or component pricing? What will a potential change of government in the world’s largest economy do to the market for renewable energy? Is the tapering off of inflation a long-term trend we can bake into multi-year contracts or will it return? So much of what we trade can be affected by the uncertainty around events that are yet to happen – and this frequently results in a good deal of argument between parties in conflict over those variables. Argument that most often takes time and leads nowhere – a supplier asserting that inflation will still be higher in their industry well into next year, so the headline rate is irrelevant is unlikely to change their mind on that, any more than the buyer will be likely to acquiesce to evidence to the contrary. Firstly, we simply don’t know yet. Secondly – and crucially – if it’s not in my interests to concede to an argument about what’s yet to happen, why would I?

Where agreeing to disagree and postponing the conflict is possible, that may be for the best. Frequently that isn’t possible – and that’s where a well-constructed bet may be very useful for negotiators. The ability to cut through the disagreement with a trade that rewards the party who is correct can enable negotiators to move forward towards a deal rather than being stuck in an endless circular argument in which nobody will yield.

Not only can a bet move the process forward. It is also a very useful tool to identify where an argument is simply being made to reinforce a position, rather than because it’s a genuinely held belief. There will be times when parties in conflict put forward a position simply because it suits them and if they can persuade you they are right, you are more likely to concede ground. Placing a bet that would reward them if their views turned out to be accurate will test the authenticity of the argument. Back in 2006, Arsenal – my team – faced Barcelona in the European Cup final in Paris. Exchanging opinions with a Barça supporting friend, who was looking forward to watching the favourites thrash Arsenal, I naturally offered a contrary view, maintaining that Arsenal would be a revelation, we had a world-class striker in Thierry Henry, and more. This conversation went round and round until my friend offered me a £50 bet on the outcome. At which point my confidence evaporated and I backpedalled as fast as I could – it was not a genuinely held opinion and I didn’t particularly want to lose out on £50. We came close – not close enough, though. But at least I didn’t lose £50 to boot. Trading opinion can be a very useful tool in the negotiating skillset – it’s always worth looking for the opportunity to do so, particularly where you sense the contrary view is a tactical play.

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