Experience with the Sunday minute tips from Jim Sebenius about the problems with implementation of agreements

Gedeputeerde Cees Loggen from the Province of Noord-Holland is chairman of the implementation process of the well-known Oostelijke Vechtplassen agreement, with 21 participating organizations. Interpretation problems created an impasse and hindered progress on an important part of the agreement. An outside person was appointed to advise about possible solutions. We confronted him with Sebenius advice.

Looking beyond the mentioned Amazon story in the PON Sunday Minute and other current negotiations in the news, Sebenius advises negotiators to mount a successful negotiation campaign by following these negotiation strategies and guidelines. 

1. Never take success for granted in a complex, multiparty setting.

Cees: That is clear of course, but it is also important to create conditions and surroundings that may improve the chances for success.

2. Stay informed about local opinions regarding the issues involved.      

Cees: I consider this a no-brainer, wasn’t there a famous Wall Street broker who said: “information is the most valuable commodity”? 

3. Identify and nurture potential supporters before you need them.

Cees: I agree but be aware that there is no one size fits all approach. Nurturing knows many ways; they are dependent on the culture of the negotiators background and community. In many cases you start with mistrusting parties, “nurturing might feed their mistrust.

4. Identify potential deal blockers at the start of the negotiation.

Cees: That is absolutely necessary, but be sure at the beginning of the negotiations how you want to communicate and deal with such a potential deal blocker. 

5. Be aware that opponents with diverse concerns may team up to form a blocking coalition. 

Cees: This attitude of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is quite common. That is why you really need to understand the different negotiating parties and their interests. I always try not only to understand people’s negative feelings for subjects and persons, but also their passions. 

6. Listen to potential opponents’ concerns and address them, to the degree that you can.

Cees: be honest and straight in listening, and show what your actions are to possibly deal with their concerns.

7. Continue to negotiate for the agreement’s success during the implementation stage.

Cees: I agree, it is important that you also manage expectations of that stage. Very often people think that once an agreement is signed, the work is done. It is only the beginning of a period of hard work, to maintain the cooperative attitude of the negotiators that showed in their trust and signatures. An important complication is the fact that politicians and civil servants tend to change jobs regularly. It is not easy to keep the mutual gains attitude alive.


James K. Sebenius, the Gordon Donaldson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the coauthor (with David A. Lax) of 3-D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals. Cees Loggen has been serving as VVD provincial minister in Noord-Holland for eight years. He is very experienced in creating consensus among political parties.