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A Right Royal Deal?

Published: Jan 23 , 2020
Author: David Bannister

In the past couple of weeks, the press in the UK and in other parts of the world has devoted many of its precious column inches to the story surrounding Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and his wife, the former actress Meghan Markle.  As you can probably imagine with my background, whenever the word "negotiation" appears in the press then my attention is caught. In this case, a week or so of discussions and negotiations has taken place between the Prince and members of the British Royal Family. I have found it interesting to reflect on how these negotiations have been reported and I thought I might subject them to some scrutiny.  Let me examine here the Royal Family negotiations from a Scotwork perspective. 

First of all, we always tell people to have very clear objectives and to have those prioritised. This particular saga began with an apparently "out of the blue" statement from the Sussexes to the effect that they wanted to "step back from" their roles as senior members of the Royal Family but they would "honour their duty" to the Queen with whom they would "collaborate". Many thought that the statement carried all the hallmarks associated with a PR adviser. For me, the essential question is how realistic were their initial objectives? Stepping back from Royal responsibilities but still honouring your duty and collaborating appears to indicate that the terms under which they are prepared to continue as members of the Royal Family would be determined by them and effectively make them part-time members. It has rapidly become evident if we did not already suspect it, that those born into the Royal Family inherit with that birth a duty to the country and its people. Our 93-year-old Queen made it clear within days that the stated objective was not going to be achievable, that a "pick and mix" membership of the Royal family was not going to be an option and, moreover, as monarch, no one "collaborates" with her. The negotiating lesson here it seems to me is when you select your objectives put yourself in the other party's shoes, listen to yourself carefully and assess the realism of your proposal from their standpoint. On this test, the Sussexes’ self-centred objectives fell at the first hurdle.

Second, I began to think about power. Many warm words were said in royal statements acknowledging that the desire of the Prince and his wife to live a different life predominantly in a different country was something with which the Royals empathised. However, there was a price to be paid – no royal titles, no selective appearances as members of the Royal Family, no more military patronages and, I suspect behind-the-scenes, a very clear message about their behaviour as independent individuals. The reality here, I think, is that the Sussexes or their advisers sadly misjudged the way in which the Royal family would exercise its power over them. Effectively, they were told you may have your relocation and your new life.  Here is the price you will pay.  Take it or leave it. The Royal Family is rarely called upon to flex its muscles but in this case, its members knew that for its own survival it would have to exercise its decision-making power ruthlessly. Misjudging the power balance in the negotiation can leave the one who does the misjudging damaged as a result.

The third thing I reflected on was the issue of tradeable items – you can only do a deal if you have something the other side wants and they're prepared to trade with you to get it. In this case, in my judgement, it was the Sussexes who were doing the wanting and who were probably advised that their position in the Royal Family and their, albeit waning, personal popularity gave them some leverage.  They were quickly disabused of that and I suspect it was made clear that if their financial independence was going to rest on opportunities like voice-overs for Disney then they would not be doing that as their Royal Highnesses. Always check when you negotiate that you have something to trade with – especially where the counterparty has the balance of power in their favour as was the case here.

One of the other things we talk about to those we coach, train and advise is the use of time as a negotiating variable. It is particularly interesting in this case that a review period of a year has been built into the publicised deal with the Sussexes. Some think that this may give them a way back if their venture does not prove to be a success. Others, me amongst them, think that this is another means of applying pressure, indicating that financial support will be withdrawn by the Prince’s father in 2021 to provide focus and ensure that the deal is implemented fully. Time manifests itself in a number of different ways in negotiations but in this instance, and because it has been used so publicly, I think it was used to apply pressure to obtain compliance with the deal and perhaps to give some leverage over future behaviour.

Finally, emotion. The Sussexes have had a bad press in the UK whether you judge them to deserve it or not. Emotion is often used to bolster and support an argument – especially after the facts have failed to do so. In this case, according to surveys, the general public was not with the Sussexes in their stated desire to keep one foot in the royal camp and one in Netflix.  Implementing negotiated decisions is always likely to be easier when they are supported by the general mood of the people around the decision. In this case, rightly or wrongly, while people understood the desire that the Prince and his wife had to change their lives, people also understood that this had to be done under terms which would have the least damaging consequences for the continuity of the British Royal Family. In the end, all deals which are agreed have to be implemented. Our surveys of negotiators indicate that many are often not happy with the lasting effects of their deals.  Deals are frequently made by people who do not have the responsibility for implementing them and so the appetite for implementation diminishes as the deal is passed on from the negotiators to the implementers. In this case, the wish on the part of commentators and the public to see a certain kind of "just" outcome appeared to disadvantage the Sussexes from the outset. The result was a tough deal which caused one British newspaper this week to describe the Prince as the "loser". It seems to me that the lesson is that if there is support for toughness because it is considered to be appropriate then that toughness is likely to win the day.

All this, of course, is speculation. The Royal Family have been more open than usual in their thinking about this solution but none of us can ever know exactly what went on in the private meetings which have taken place. Nevertheless, we now have an outcome achieved commendably quickly as was the wish of the Queen who seems to have dictated the terms. Along with many others I hope the Prince and his wife achieve the peace and independence in future which they seek.


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About the author:

David Bannister
My background is human resource consulting, I am a former KPMG consulting partner and head of global HR development with the firm. I began my interest in negotiating as an industrial relations specialist in the early part of my career and have spent many hours with trade union representatives practising what I now preach! I am also a coach and use these skills in my work with Scotwork’s clients.

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