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By François de Callières
176 pp. New York: Houghton Mifflin. 2000
Hardcover Edition: (US) $ 16.00
François de Callières (1645-1717) was a diplomat and member of the cabinet of Louis XIV of France. At the time of the King’s death in 1715, the heir to the throne, Louis XV, was a boy of five years of age and as a consequence Philippe II, Duc d’Orleans, became Regent. Fearful that the new Regent would replace the old diplomatic corps with his untrained cronies, François de Callières wrote a lengthy letter about the skills and importance of negotiating to Philippe II in 1716. This book is a translation of that letter.
Historian David McCullogh on reviewing the book, called the work "pure gold." British management Charles Handy not only edited this edition, but also wrote a glowing introduction extolling the work’s values for the modern executive. Then, Ambassador and scholar John Kenneth Galbraith wrote for the book jacket that: "one wonders why anything more needed to be said on the subject." It is time, therefore, that all of us who are interested in negotiations take note.
François de Callières begins his letter by stating that its "… aim [is]: to give an idea of the personal qualities and general knowledge necessary to all good negotiators" (p.1). He then turns rapidly to a listing of some of the key qualities of the successful negotiator of three hundred years ago. "… Rather listen than speak, … self-restraint, a faultless discretion and a patience which no trial can break down …." (p.25).
There are other qualities the negotiator should possess, of course, and our author knows them well. One of these attributes is courage.
The negotiator "… must be not only be courageous in danger but firm in debate," the author tells us. (p.20). This critical quality, too often wanting throughout the years and to this day in the search for agreements, is clearly driven home by the author’s statement of belief that "compromise is the easy refuge of the irresolute spirit"(p.20). There is, indeed, much to ponder in this antique text. The matters it raises are alive always.
Not surprisingly, François de Callières addresses many more ancient and as well as current issues in the field of negotiations. Three hundred years, after all, is but a trifle in time in the history of the practice of negotiation and the exploration of the skills requisite to its success. Negotiation is an enterprise as old as humankind itself, its experiences recounted in the writings of our species for more than two millennia.
Let us examine a few more of the concepts about this field that occupied the author so long ago. What may be surprising, however, is that none of this is new. It is, after all, an account of an ongoing and ancient process.
Interest-based or collaborative negotiating, today’s mainstream thrust in the field, somewhat surprisingly, perhaps to many, is François de Callières’ preferred negotiating style. "Now the easiest way to find the right bias," the author tells us, "is to make each proposition which you put forward as a statement of the interests of those with whom you are negotiating"(p.92). Lest we miss his point, de Callières writes, "…the surest and best way in which the negotiator can establish good relationship is to prove to both counts that their union is of great mutual advantage"(p.76).
What is the secret? How do we do this? These, of course are the perennial negotiator’s questions. The answer in 1716, according to de Callières, is preparation. The answer today has not changed.
The job of the negotiator, according to de Callières, is to "… inform himself of the nature of the private interests and passions influencing the spirits of those with whom he has to negotiate…"(p.33). He is an advocate of using and paying "well-chosen spies" to aid in the preparation of the negotiating position (p.17), a strategy that has certainly not disappeared from the scene although the designation of the players has been altered.
François de Callières also counseled his principal about achieving one of the keys of the negotiator, the building of long-term relationships with one’s partners. "There is no permanence in a relationship begun by promises which can not be redeemed," he tells his reader (p.97). Equally importantly, he also warns the Duc de’Orleans, "success won by force or by fraud stands upon a weak foundation"(p.76).
The gold is upon us. More, however, glints at every hand and on every page. It is a masterwork and the author moves surely to the essence of the relationship of the negotiator and the principal. It is a critical factor when the negotiator represents not themselves, but another party. How does one play out that role?
The negotiator "should saturate his mind with the thoughts of his master", de Callières tells his reader (p.71). The representative must also recognize and fulfill an implicit obligation of an agent to a principal by regularly reporting on the progress of the negotiations. In so doing, however, our author is no fool and wisely advises the negotiator "… not to hold out prospects of success before success itself is in [their] his grasp"(p.98). How often, alas, do modern negotiators, to their peril, fail to follow this essential rule? Unfortunately, negotiators still fail to regularly report progress and involve the "home team" in the requirements of the deal as it evolves only to find their silence has plunged the final agreement into certain failure?
There is much more of value in this slim volume. Indeed, David McCullogh is correct. There is gold here.
On the broader question raised by Ambassador Galbraith, however, did this letter truly complete the topic? I think not.
If you are comfortable with an antique style in which women may influence, but not formally negotiate as diplomats, seek an affirmation of the timelessness and importance of negotiations practice or simply wish a thought-provoking escape from current negotiations literature, you will find there are many nuggets of gold in this volume. You will find also that current literature in the field should still be on your reading list.
Several editions of François de Callières’ work have been published over the years. This edition is in limited supply, but still available through amazon.com at a greatly reduced price as of this writing. You may also need to visit your bookstore for this edition or select from the other publications of François de Callières’ work that are available.
John D. Baker, Ph.D.
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