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  • Alessandra Corrêa

Who are you speaking with? - Insights from Churchill and his many interlocutors.*

Photo: Wikipedia

It seems like an easy question to answer, but knowing who your interlocutor is is a very relevant question in negotiations and one that is often neglected.

Let's take, as an example, Churchill's famous speeches during the Second World War.

The Second World War began in September 1939. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany. As a result, when Churchill became Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, the war was already in full swing.

The Allies were in a tough position at the time: Hitler had already invaded Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and was about to invade France.

It was expected that France would be able to hold off German troops, but the reality was considerably different. Using the same tactics as in WWI, France fell in less than two months, signing its surrender on June 21 in the same train car where Germany surrendered in WWI.

Churchill recognized that Britain lacked the military and financial resources to win the war. He was certain that the United States' assistance was essential if Hitler was to be defeated. However, there were some challenges to overcome in order to get the Americans into the fight.

Public opinion was one of them. It had just been less than 22 years since the end of World War I, and many American lives had been lost winning the war on the European continent. There was also a neutrality law that prohibited the US from getting engaged in conflicts in which it was not directly involved. Congress had to authorize any help to Britain and the Allies. Roosevelt, the American president at the time, was running for re-election and needed to find a balance between preserving popular support and proposing to help Europe fight the advance of German troops.

Because of this, Churchill's speeches had many goals and, more importantly, multiple audiences.

Churchill needed to speak to the English people, show them the reality, and reassure them that everything would be well.

Churchill addressed the British Congress as well. Churchill was a divisive figure who required the support of Congress to keep his position as Prime Minister and to implement policies he deemed necessary for the conduct of the war.

Churchill was also talking to Roosevelt and the American public. For them, he had to convey the idea of strength, of courage. He had to demonstrate that they were fighting to confront Hitler, but that they needed assistance. Without showing too much vulnerability.

Churchill's audience included German officials, and he needed to show them that Britain had the resources to win the war.

Just like the former Prime Minister, in any negotiation there are several interested parties, several stakeholders. These parties influence, directly or indirectly, the decisions that will be taken throughout the negotiations. Therefore, each stakeholder must be an interlocutor, a person to whom we are speaking.

We have as interlocutors our internal public, people who are "on our side of the negotiating table": coworkers, bosses, the board of directors, and the company's shareholders.

There is, of course, the other side: the representatives of the company with which the negotiations are taking place. The word "representative" is highly significant. We are with a person, not with a company.

All these people, on both sides, have objectives, goals to achieve, fears, biases, experiences, a boss to please, and possibly a family to care for. They are all influenced by what is going on in their workplaces and families. They have interests and needs. And they all influence, each in their own way, the decision-making of the people present in the negotiation.

All of these interests and needs must be addressed in our speeches, as well as taken into account in our analyses, judgements, and interpretations of what happened and what was said at the meetings.

Just as Churchill did in his speeches, we must remember that there are many stakeholders in the outcomes of our negotiations and that each stakeholder has its own power of influence. To be successful, we must consider all audiences and their respective interests.

Por Alessandra Corrêa

* This post was originally published in Portuguese on the Head Energia blog.

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