COMPROMISING OR ACCOMMODATING?
By Aleksandar Krzhalovski
Some week ago, in the column “Life with the Prespa Agreement,” I wrote that “the Prespa Agreement is here to stay,” that is, by passing it in two Parliaments, it will come into force and its application will start, that is, our life with it, and regardless of what the current opposition in the two countries are talking about (VMRO-DPMNE and Nea Democracy) it is not very likely that it is yet to be changed or annulled. In the meantime, the ratification of the agreement in the Greek Parliament took place, so the Protocol for the admission of (North) Macedonia to NATO is to be ratified so that the gradual application of the Agreement begins, starting with the change of name onwards.
Until it happens and it is announced to happen by the end of this week, I wanted to make another review of the process and the achievement of the agreement, now from a time distance, I believe a less emotional and more rational look at the things, that is, the negotiation technique that was used. Or in other words – to try to resolve the dilemma of the title: did we reach a compromise with Greece or we accommodated (yielded)?
Namely, as someone who 20 years ago, for the needs of the work that I still do in MCIC today, I have met the theory of conflicts, methods for their recognition and their management, negotiation techniques and conflict resolution models. One of the most famous, which we also apply in everyday work today (for example, to evaluate candidates for employment), is the Thomas and Kilmann method that speaks of 5 basic ways (or styles) of dealing with conflicts that depend on two dimensions: assertiveness (can be interpreted as a level of self-confidence) and cooperativeness. Depending on the combinations of these two dimensions, the styles are:
- Avoiding (unassertive, uncooperative)
- Collaborating (assertive, cooperative)
- Compromising (intermediate assertiveness and cooperativeness)
- Competing (assertive, uncooperative)
- Accommodating (unassertive, cooperative).
What was our (the governing structures) attitude towards resolving the conflict with Greece over all these years?
Probably we can easily agree that the approach of most (or all) previous governments was avoiding, I suppose with the logic that “time is working for us” and that sooner or later – the solution will come as we wished, when reason and arguments prevail (because they are on our side…at least we are convinced of it) or the Western friends will become fed up with Greece’s stubbornness to the account of fundamental European values. But this did not happen and as many times throughout history, EU members stood on the side of their (or their member state) interests, and it became clear to us that the time was no longer working for us and with further avoidance, we would never achieve the strategic goals for EU and NATO membership. In theory, this style is good when the issue is trivial (in our case it is not), when the solution is very expensive or when there is a large emotional charge (for the latter two we can say that they are a lot applicable to our case, so the use of this style can be justified). But the theory also says that in the long run – this is not a good strategy.
We will probably also agree that the behavior of the Government of VMRO-DPMNE, especially after the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008 and the implementation of the Skopje 2014 project (which some called antiquization), can be classified in the style of competing. In other words, there was still no willingness to cooperate with the other party (although at that time there were the most meetings between the Prime Ministers), which was confirmed by the initiation of the lawsuit in Hague. This is a style that is applied by the “stronger” in the conflict, that is, leads to a “win-lose” situation, and for a sustainable solution it is only applicable in cases of urgency (e.g. natural disasters), when a quick reaction is necessary and is supported by all. We certainly were not stronger in this issue (although justice was on our side and we won in Hague), so the use of this style is problematic.
The current Government has again, and here we can all agree, showed much greater co-operation with the Greek side and the will to resolve the conflict. So, it used some of the remaining three styles (compromising, collaborating or yielding (accommodating)). The term compromise was commonly used in the public, as well as between the negotiating leadership. According to some, a reasonable compromise has been achieved. However, I do not know if the negotiators themselves would agree, if it is known that in theory this is actually a “lose-lose” situation, that is, that both sides have not achieved their goals, and maybe it is just as the German Chancellor Merkel said “Both sides are equally dissatisfied”.
But it seems to me that it is more about one of the two remaining techniques/styles (collaborating or yielding (accommodating)), both characterized by a high level of cooperation, but very different in terms of assertiveness/self-confidence.
During the negotiations it seemed that we were guided by the approach to “collaborating” (somewhere it is also translated as cooperation), to the so-called “win-win” scenario, with high self-confidence for their own positions and high respect for the other party, and with changing the view of the whole basis of the dispute (paradigm) and seeking creative/innovative solutions, there is a better (and more acceptable) result for everyone. This was actually often mentioned by the participants in the negotiations and it seemed that things were going that direction.
However, according to the final result, it seems that at the end of the process, we yielded! Or – we accommodated, whatever. Whether due to the pressure of time (the upcoming EU and NATO summits in late June and July 2018), besides accepting the change of the name of the country (which was expected in order to have any kind of agreement, and I would say accepted by almost the majority of the citizens), our party also agreed on the change of the Constitution and the erga omnes use of the new name – contrary to its views from the time of the elections. This is a solution that is at the expense of their own positions/goals/attitudes, but in theory it is recommended to apply when it is important to maintain a good relationship with the other party, and perhaps this was the reason more for our negotiators.
Like other styles, this one is not bad in itself (we also say “A wise man changes his mind, a fool never“) – for example, I usually apply this style, especially when colleagues demand a higher salary.
I will end the text with the question from the title (or slightly enlarged) – which style of negotiation did this Government apply in resolving the conflict with Greece: a) a compromise; b) win-win c) yielding?
You tell me!
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