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Never, say never (unless you’re really sure)

It’s been a week of people boxing themselves into corners unnecessarily.

Firstly, there was ‘Loss and Damage’ – John Kerry, the US Climate envoy, stating before COP 27 that the U.S. might be ready to “Agree to a new fund within months or a year of this meeting’s conclusion”, (inferring this would happen further down the line).

Wrong – 36 hours after the COP 27 deadline, a fund was conceptually agreed.

This was followed shortly after by ‘Beer Creep’. The time-honoured tradition of (some) footie fans consuming alcoholic beverages at a game, this time disappearing faster than a magician successfully whipping a tablecloth from under a full dinner service.

FIFA wasn’t finished yet though – we then had the FIFA president Gianni Infantino's seemingly faux empathy comments of the: “Today I feel Qatari/Arab/African/Gay/Disabled etc.”, (Oh, and apparently yesterday I had red hair and freckles which means I really do have empathy with all the other aforementioned groups). However, when footballers wanted to make a point wearing an armband, or fans chose to show their support with LGBT rainbow hats and flags, said items were either threatened with a yellow card or confiscated.

My point is, that resolving conflict (commercial or otherwise) is about the art of the possible and with that for me lies two important principles which are interwoven within the process.

Firstly, whilst we can never plan for every eventuality, at least some rudimentary scenario planning must take place during our preparation.

If someone had said to John Kerry before the COP conference that without a Loss and Damage fund agreed to in principle at this conference it would end up being portrayed as an unmitigated disaster, would he have still ruled it out?

No, I don’t think so.

Did FIFA really think that Qatar was going to be perfectly OK with fans consuming varying quantities of alcohol within the grounds with the risk of potentially bad behaviour?

This one was either naivety or arrogance.

Would the FIFA president really have come out with his little empathy speech if he’d thought how disingenuous it might have appeared alongside FIFA threatening a low-level armband/hat protest.

I’m not so sure.

The point is that we really need to ‘objectively’ think through what the possible implications are of our actions during the planning process.

My second point is related to the first. If after having done meticulous preparation, we really do know our limits, then by all means state them. If, however, there is any element of doubt, perhaps we need to qualify the statements we make in regard to them. In this instance John Kerry may have been better saying something before COP 27 like, “I find it difficult to see how a fund of this nature can be agreed at this conference”.

I appreciate that this statement does give hints of potential flexibility which is not always deemed as best practice when negotiating. It may however be more palatable (on occasions) than giving a categorical “No” (and then having to stick with it). Providing such a specific statement means there is now no room for manoeuvre and the announcer’s ego may not allow them to do anything else. Some egos are obviously much larger than others and so with them comes greater resistance (just think of Elon Musk – but that’s another story entirely…).

Something to consider the next time you want to just say “No”.

Sam Macbeth 24th November 2022

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