I came across a timely article by Harvard Business School Professor, Deepak Malhotra, entitled “I’m an Expert on negotiations and I have some advice for Theresa May.”

The part that really resonated with me was his observation that what this particular ‘negotiation’ needed more than anything was the mind-set and approach of a mediator.

Similar advice had been offered by CEDR’s founder, Dr Karl Mackie back in October 2017 in an interview on Radio 4 and a publication entitled "Brexit Negotiations and the ‘Ancient Regime’ – where are the mediators?”  How prophetic his words have turned out to be; “The current approach is likely to leave the parties, near the end of the negotiation period, scrambling to secure final details and public approval. The result – a rushed deal to try and demonstrate success but probably littered with holes and devoid of widespread support."

To have seemingly ignored the wisdom of both these great pioneers of the art of difficult conversations is something that will once more, likely be consigned to the realms of hindsight.

As I reflect on both Karl’s article and an earlier piece by Deepak, it reminded me of one of the most rewarding insights I have had when I was fortunate enough to be asked to help deliver the first peace-keeping course for CEDR in partnership with The Oxford Process. I discovered that The Oxford Process is one of those discrete, seemingly innocuous organisations that punches far, far above its weight. It is the go to authority for a myriad of international organisations and heads of government when it comes to some of the world’s most intractable, bloodiest conflicts.

The core role of the peace-maker, to quote The Oxford Process is to, ‘work quietly behind the scenes with parties to conflict with the aim of bringing them together in a safe environment to ripen the conditions for official negotiations.’ Why is this so important? Gabrielle Rifkind, Director of The Oxford Process and Gianni Picco, international peace-maker, explain in their book, The Fog of War; because ‘governments frequently manage risk in such a way that those governing are not exposed to failure. This cautious approach reduces the likelihood of success and thereby highlights why the role of the mediator needs to take place.'

To me, how all this chimed with Deepak’s observation that Brexit is not a traditional ‘deal-making process,’ but something more akin to the complexity of ‘international climate change deals, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or attempts to resolve conflict in Syria.’ His solution; this is where you ‘take on the mantle of a mediator’ in the quest to avoid disaster.

That ‘mantle’ I am honoured to say, is well-worn by Hostage Negotiators throughout the world. It is also, as I have discovered first hand, the same mantle worn by the really good business negotiators, mediators, peace-makers and those involved in all levels of conflict resolution and difficult conversations.

And what does that ‘mantle’ provide I hear you say…………….knowledge, an armoury of skills that really work, the confidence to dynamically adapt and apply that wisdom and the tenacity to see it through whilst accepting that every day is a school day.

Delivered by real-world practitioners, CEDR can help shape your ‘mantle’ whether it is as a Commercial Mediator, in Work-Place Mediation, Advanced Negotiation, Peace-Making or Managing Difficult Conversations.


Philip Williams is a former Director of Hostage Negotiation for the Met Police and one of our lead negotiation trainers. He brings his experience of negotiation in global crises to the world of business and works with leaders globally to help them advance their skills and capability.