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Getting to Peace

How does alliance management play out on the international stage? Two strategy experts offer advice to Arafat and Sharon, Powell and Musharraf.

Read the main story: Seven Strategies for Successful Alliances

Danny Ertel and Stuart Kliman, founding partners of Vantage Partners LLC, claim no special knowledge of the current international arena, no possession of diplomatic details other than those they read in the New York Times. But years of coaching top-flight companies and conflict-ridden countries how to build alliances have given them insights into what does and does not work at the negotiating table.

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Here are some of Ertel’s and Kliman’s thoughts on the hazards and opportunities currently at play in the world’s hotspots.

On the Bush Administration’s Handling of the War on Terrorism

The administration seems to be taking a highly consultative approach, which is working, Ertel says. Bush, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld are not ceding decision-making power to other countries, but they are treating partners with respect and making sure that coalition members aren’t surprised by U.S. tactics.

On the other hand, Ertel worries that key players haven’t yet gathered to talk about potential long-term hazards. “It’s not enough to react to changes opportunistically,” he says. You need a joint planning group to think about how to move forward in the weeks, months, and years ahead — and to plan for worst-case scenarios.

On the Hazards of Taking a Hard Line

“In the Salvadoran conflict, it was important to recognize that eventually something would go wrong,” Ertel says. “President Christiani could not ask the rebels to guarantee a perfect cease-fire, because that would give veto power to any dissident with a hand grenade. In the Middle East today, you cannot realistically expect either Arafat or Sharon to promise a complete cease-fire either. Then anybody with access to explosives could torpedo the whole thing.”

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On the Power of the Counterintuitive Move

“In both international relationships and business partnerships, we put a lot of stock in the counterintuitive move — the action that is really going to break some significant dynamic,” Ertel says. “Think of when King Hussein of Jordan went to Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. You could feel the ground shaking underneath, and it moved the conversation forward in a significant way. If I were advising the leaders of the Middle East, I would ask what counterintuitive move they could employ to change the overarching system. Right now, the Palestinians don’t have much to lose, so a counterintuitive move might be to invest heavily in the territories. That way, Palestinians would have something at risk if they sabotaged the peace process.”

On Americans As Global Partners

Americans are pretty good at behaving collaboratively, Ertel says. “We understand that you should solve problems jointly, make decisions based on merits, and attend to relationships.” But we’re less skilled at understanding our own biases, he says. Americans engage in rational problem solving — an approach that says, “Let’s figure it out and get it done.” In the process, we can be less sensitive to context — the constraints that partners feel from their culture, the mind-set of their fellow citizens, or the expectations of those around them.

We assume that the other side’s perceptions are partisan but that our own are not. We hold a point of view that’s based on a set of experiences, and we look at data through that lens, just as others do. We assume that there’s a reality in the world and Americans are the ones who best understand that reality, Ertel says.

We also have difficulty distinguishing between intent and impact. “Americans may intend something in a particular way, but it may impact a partner in a completely surprising way.” But we assume that, because our intent was good, any subsequent impact is the other country’s problem.

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Linda Tischler (ltischler@fastcompany.com) is the Fast Company managing editor of new media. Learn more about Vantage Partners on the Web. Contact Danny Ertel (dertel@vantagepartners.com) and Stuart Kliman (skliman@vantagepartners.com) via email.

Read the main story: Seven Strategies for Successful Alliances

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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