Skip to main content

You can learn to negotiate – claim and reality in politics

A good politician is a good negotiator – at least you could assume that. After all, negotiating is the daily bread of a politician – especially if s/he operates on relevant interfaces. Legislative decisions, foreign policy aspects, internal security, social benefits or economic support – the list may be continued arbitrarily, whether in dialogue with company representatives, fellow party members, government partners, committee members, EU members or decision-makers in the local constituency. A good outcome of a negotiation can be crucial for a member of parliament and decide whether s/he will be re-elected.

The outcome of negotiations can have a significant impact on the public image and reputation of the respective person. Anyone who negotiates successfully and achieves a favourable media response has gained a positive image and reputation. A recent study by the University of Potsdam examined the importance of political negotiations. In the first empirical survey in this field in Germany, the peculiarities of political negotiations, preparation and the general negotiation performance of politicians were evaluated.

Negotiation is politics – politics is negotiation

The result: Negotiation plays a central role in the professional field life of a politician and is firmly linked to the occupation itself. This is not only the opinion of the interviewed politicians themselves but also the population in general. More than three quarters (75%) of respondents said that it is important for a politician to be a good negotiator. According to the study, about 40 percent of the activities of a member of parliament involve participation in negotiations. Thus, public expectations of a politician are rather high when s/he sits down at the negotiating table.

However, in connection with the high expectations of members of parliament or ministers, there is often the erroneous assumption that it is exactly those political representatives who are perfectly prepared for negotiations. But just the opposite is the case. According to the study, the majority (76%) of politicians simply did have neverot learned how to negotiate properly – neither in as part of their education nor at work. They fly by the seat of their pants. This inevitably leads to a drastic discrepancy between those politicians who can make use of a sound negotiation training and those who enter into a negotiation without background knowledge. High-ranking politicians, especially at the international level, are regularly accompanied by professional negotiating coaches and hence prepared for specific situations – for a good reason.

Because of their complexity and other factors such as time and scope, political negotiations take a special role. The ongoing ‘Brexit’ negotiations are a good example. Negotiation in politics is usually tedious and, above all, always associated with increased public attention. Those who enter such negotiations without any background knowledge and, in particular, with a poorly prepared team, inevitably draw the short straw, at the latest at the upcoming elections. Especially in the German Bundestag, a large number of members of parliament have no experience in strategic negotiations. More than two-thirds (67%) of the surveyed politicians believe that negotiation training at the beginning of their political careers could help them acquiring acquire more skills in this area. As a result, the personal displeasure grows and is accompanied by a certain uncertainty.

Conclusion: Training is the basis for success

Negotiation coaching and training is essential to assert yourself in complex situations. Seventy percent of the surveyed politicians are convinced that they can achieve significantly better negotiation results if they were coached professionally and on a regular basis. Therefore, it is not surprising that the mainly mentioned reasons for poor negotiation results are inadequate preparation and overly ambitious goals.

Therefore, professional political negotiators regularly resort to comprehensive coaching tailored to specific negotiating situations in a highly specialised environment. Anyone who masters negotiation techniques and negotiation psychology in all its facets manages to assert her/his own interests and achieves a satisfactory result with positive publicity – as well as ensures a re-election as a member of parliament.

Read more about our extensive negotiation seminars on the C4-website.

More about the study results of the Negotiation Academy Potsdam can be found in this working paper.



  • Reichstagsgebäude Berlin: FelixMittermeier, Pixabay | CC 0 Public Domain

Thorsten Hofmann, C4 Institute, Quadriga University Berlin

Thorsten Hofmann leads the CfN (Center for Negotiation) at the Quadriga University Berlin’s Institute for Crisis, Change and Conflict Communication C4. He is an internationally certified Negotiation Trainer and advises corporations and organisations in complex negotiation processes.