Mustafa Abbas




United Kingdom




Sep 2018 - May 2020

By Mustafa Abbas


What was it exactly that Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus did to negotiate a greater outcome from an initially weak position?

In our negotiation classes we learnt about dividing and growing the pie. We delved into possible and probable causes of impasse. We role-played together and scored points with and against each other. We foolishly squabbled in negotiations where we might have collaborated for mutual gain; and equally foolishly, we collaborated where competitive approaches were rational. We thought about decision trees, actors and ethics.

We further gained a deeper understanding of the seemingly submissive position. Coalitions of weaker players could advantageously turn the outcomes of a negotiation. Coalitions might be stable based on mutual economic benefit for the coalition partners, but perhaps more potent is the sharing of a common “higher” interest, such as justice or morality, which elicits tremendous emotional arousal.

Of course, we were just playing games that have been repeated throughout the history of mankind.

Mandela, Gandhi and Jesus shared ‘faith’ in two senses of the word. First, faith in the sense of confidence or perhaps enlightenment to engage in a seemingly hopeless negotiation from their initial positions of weakness,  knowing or hoping or strategising that there existed possibilities for negotiated pathways towards better outcomes. Second, and probably consciously, they understood that if there is a high degree of trust accompanying their principle-based leadership, then there is influence. Through beautiful narratives, they gained a loyal following, without the need for traditional power bases.

The task for the non-dominant player is often difficult, but with creativity and faith the mountain will move.

While our negotiations course is offered as an elective, this is a lesson for everyone, because we negotiate in most of our waking moments, either with others or with ourselves, and for our conscious or subconscious choices.


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