Negotiation and Formula

William Zartman

Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, and Director of Conflict Management at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Can you explain to me the concept of formula?

A: Yeah. I started out in the negotiation business by being trained in international relations. I was also trained in part and developed a specialty as an area specialist. The first books that I did were on international relations and area studies. I did a book on the international relations of Africa, which I thought was interesting because it showed that the concepts of international relations could be applied to a new developing area. Then somebody said in a review that this was all unimportant because the relations of Africa that were important were not among African nations, but between Africa and Europe. So I said, "Ok. Well, I'll do a book on that." So I did a book on commercial trade relations between Africa and Europe. In the process came the word negotiations and the politics of trade negotiations, and so I looked at all the theory of that time in the early 70s and mid-70s on the subject of negotiation. I found it unreal, because it assumed parties started in fixed positions and by concessions worked towards a particular outcome. I had found in reality that that's not what they did. They first started by scouting the terrain and then coming to a general notion of what they were going to agree on. A general notion in terms of trade, a common sense of justice or a definition of the problem and of its solution — and that's a formula. Once they had a formula, they could talk about details. I think that holds pretty well and if that's what people do then — if they don't do it to negotiate badly or like in trade negotiations — the formula is already established and then they negotiate with it within that definition.