We often find many people go into commercial negotiations with the view that “their gain is our loss,” with the “pie” to be negotiated being only of a fixed size.

Look at any negotiation course in a law or business school and you are likely to find that “fixed pie thinking” is one of the first topics to be addressed. The lecturer will painstakingly tell you that by exploring fully the needs of both parties and looking for issues which they value differently, the parties will be in a better position to put together a solution where they can trade on issues of high value to one party and of low value to the other. This, process, in negotiation speak, enables the possibility of the pie to be expanded, create value and produce joint gains.

In political negotiations, the pie is not fixed but fixed pie mentality can be very present because of the highly competitive and adversarial nature of politics. Certainly, in the run up to the EU Referendum we have witnessed almost psychopathic excesses of political rhetoric and nonsense from both the leave and remain political camps.

Now, under the new Prime Minister, “Brexit means Brexit” will be interpreted by many as Britain’s ability to have access to trade in the EU’s single market with as few tariffs as possible and limiting the freedom of movement. Those who voted to leave the EU are placing high expectations on British negotiators to achieve that outcome and to be “tough”. Similar expectations will be placed on EU negotiators by many EU Nationals and politicians who have seen Britain as a thorn in the side of the EU project and will not want a deal which is seen to give Britain the best of both worlds. This prevailing mood already has the strong whiff of “fixed pie thinking” and may well neither help the British negotiators nor their European counterparts (whoever they will be).

The trouble is that being tough is usually associated with being intransigent and intransigence usually prompts a similar response in negotiations. Not only that but the emotional demands and personal reputations for being “tough” in negotiation and the inevitable posturing that follows can easily escalate unnecessary conflict and hasten deadlock even when all those at the negotiation table know that a resolution based on some level of compromise means they would all be better off. The present danger is that fixed pie thinking will be in place before the British and EU negotiators even begin to talk with one another (whatever that process looks like).


Andy Grossman is an Architect, Mediator and a Director for The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).