Leadership

A diplomat and politician shares the 7 traits effective negotiations need

Al-Mashat shares her approach to effective negotiations and what any leader can take forward to make change happen.

Al-Mashat shares her approach to effective negotiations and what any leader can take forward to make change happen. Image: World Economic Forum

Ewan Thomson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Leadership

  • Dr Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation, is an economist and politician who drives economic diplomacy.
  • She works with multilateral and bilateral organizations in her efforts to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and effective negotiation is a critical tool for creating successful outcomes.
  • As part of the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast series, Al-Mashat explains what elements successful negotiations share.

Dr Rania Al-Mashat is Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation. It's a role that requires working with a range of organizations and groups around the world to make seismic change happen (including multilateral international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, as well as bilateral organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development).

Whether it's reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or tackling the climate crisis, the stakes are high and the solutions complex. And even when two parties agree on their ultimate goal, they often will see different paths to get to their destination.

The World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast series caught up with Al-Mashat in New York recently during its Sustainable Development Impact Meetings 2023. In this edited version of that interview, Al-Mashat shares her approach to effective negotiations and what any leader can take forward to make change happen.

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1. Know your priorities -- and theirs

Key to any negotiation is to understand what what you're looking to achieve, says Al-Mashat. "Ask yourself what your goals are. What do I want out of this discussion?”

Having this in mind can act as an anchor - and help you shape your conversations going forward. "When we negotiate, we want to make sure that our priorities and those of our partners align.”

2. Finding the common ground

Next, establish the common ground between you and the other parties.

For instance, as a ministry that is responsible for the SDGs, Al-Mashat notes that she drives for projects that affect the whole world and from there draws commonalities with other institutions. She suggests you ask yourself: “What do both of us agree on? Where is the common denominator?"

3. Use phrases that build bridges

Consider your language carefully. Phrases such as "alignment," "an example to be replicated" or even "building block" can signify that you are co-creating a solution and that the relationship isn't just transactional, that it will continue beyond this particular project or initiative.

Language can help refocus conversations during tough moments as well. Al-Mashat suggests stressing where the two parties "complement" each other and mentioning past collaborations that yielded positive results to help move talks forward.

4. Build on existing trust

Trust is a key component of negotiation, too. Be mindful that interactions that occur before any negotiations even start can help or hurt a future conversation.

In this, your consistency will be important, she stresses. be someone people can depend on, someone people can trust to do what you say you will do.

“Let's assume that I'm negotiating today with a certain development partner, it's very important that our previous projects or previous negotiations yielded positive results that reflect positively on that institution, as well as positively on my institution,” she says.

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5. Creating partnerships to be proud of

The role of Minister of International Cooperation is, for Al-Mashat, about doing positive things for the planet and its people, and these goals are something to be proud of, which is also a negotiating tool in itself.

“Try and think innovatively about creating that common ground and making the partner you're negotiating with proud of their partnership with you. This definitely yields positive results,” she says.

Creating pride in partnerships by thinking innovatively was at the heart of the strategy behind building Egypt’s ambitious development goals. Al-Mashat says building an innovative tool that demonstrated the value of funding – by mapping out how every dollar invested related to the UN’s SDGs – provided clarity and focus to ensure the successful landing of Agenda 2030.

View of the seventeen sustainable development goals.
Finding common ground in negotiations is important, and targeting the UN’s 17 SDGs is a global goal to be proud of, Al-Mashad says. Image: Wikimedia

6. Let curiosity drive you

Great negotiations can be fueled by a sense of discovery and finding alignment. Al-Mashat credits a love for learning in helping her in her current role.

“Educating yourself is extremely important. Collaborating, listening, exchanging ideas… it can happen during conferences, but also with colleagues, and with the teams I work with – there's always new ideas that come up.”

Engaging with people, and having a sense of humility, allows new ideas and concepts to emerge that can help move ideas forward, she says.

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7. Patience and self-belief

Al-Mashat credits patience as a key negotiation tool - one that can help you pace your conversations - and the approach for change.

One negotiation can be a building block for future projects, and so taking the long view that the relationship is full of opportunities for the future can help foster interactions that are more collaborative than transactional.

“You try to push, try to inspire, but at the same time, you have to be a little bit mindful of those around you," she says.

And the number one tactic that people can use in their daily work lives to push things forward?

Self-belief.

“Never belittle the contribution that you're making, because everything counts, from the smallest thing – like mentioning a statistic during a meeting – to actually trying to change policy.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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