It’s better to talk than to fight

“Less war-war and more jaw-jaw” - Churchill

“I firmly believe in the Golden Rule of reciprocity: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” This is what drives seasoned expert in negotiation, conflict management and dispute resolution, Barney Jordaan, who was recently appointed professor of negotiation at Vlerick Business School.

Barney is a lawyer by training, but most of his work as a lawyer, consultant, trainer and professor has been focused on getting people – particularly in commerce, management and labour, but also lawyers – to use collaborative processes such as negotiation and mediation for the resolution of differences as a first option, before resorting to the exercise of coercive power or litigation.

There’s good news: it can be learnt!

In a rapidly changing and very competitive world, where networks and relationships often provide the competitive edge, most business leaders, managers, trade unionists and their advisors strangely enough keep using adversarial negotiation and dispute resolution methods to pursue their commercial and other substantive objectives. The results are usually predictable, as Barney explains: “Increased risks, sub-optimal outcomes, damaged or destroyed relationships and loss of control over the other side’s response to your strategies and tactics. This is non-sensical from an economic point of view, but also runs counter to the demands of good corporate governance and ethical behaviour in business.”

Then why do they still continue to use the same approach, if time and again it proves counterproductive? Barney smiles: “Because of our entrenched mind-sets and behaviours, it’s always a tough job to get people to think and behave differently when they are faced with differences and difficult conversations in commerce, the workplace and also in the private domain. But this is exactly what excites me about negotiation, mediation and similar consensus-seeking processes. Research shows that fewer than 5% of managers are able to reach win-win outcomes when they negotiate. Shocking as this figure is, the good news is that the attitudes, behaviours and skills that are required to achieve better results can be learnt.”

A long-held dream

Barney’s first encounter with Vlerick was in 2004, when he spent a short sabbatical with us doing research on the approaches to employment relations and employment law compliance of multi-national organisations investing in developing countries. Since then he has taught at Vlerick from time to time on the negotiation programme, together with David Venter and Katia Tieleman. “And every time I did so, my dream of one day teaching here on a more permanent basis became stronger. With David’s retirement and return to South Africa, that dream became a reality,” he says, when asked why he decided to join us.

He continues: “There is much I have to learn about negotiation, mediation and related fields from the European context and that’s a challenge I’m looking forward to very much. Yet I also believe that the developing world context, in this case African, and the experience that I bring with me will make for a richer blend of views and contestation of ideas.”

High aspirations

He has ambitious plans: “Vlerick is ideally situated to be recognised as one of Europe’s leading institutions in negotiation, mediation and conflict management,” he says. “Together with my colleagues I would like to play my part in this. Through our academic and customised programmes, I want to help business leaders, managers and others to develop more productive approaches to negotiation and the resolution of differences, especially in the field of commerce. Also, by providing an academic platform via which mediators, the legal profession, and decision-makers in organisations can engage, I hope to assist with the promotion of consensus-seeking methods, such as mediation, as a far superior way of resolving differences in most instances. And of course, I’m looking forward to engaging in collaborative research and curriculum development with my colleagues at Vlerick, the KUL and abroad.”

He also has high aspirations on a personal level: “I’m a great admirer of Gandhi. My motto, which is not always easy for me to adhere to, comes from him: ‘Be the change you want to see in this world’, i.e. try to live what you teach and preach.”

  • External consultant to the World Bank Group’s Office of Mediation Services (2011-2014)
  • Co-founder and director of a leading South African consulting firm (1997-2014)
  • Professor of law, Stellenbosch University, South Africa (1990-1997)
  • Senior lecturer in law, Stellenbosch University, South Africa (1983-1990)
Other current appointments include:
  • Visiting professor Nova Gorica University, Slovenia (2013-present)
  • Sub-Saharan representative of the International Association for Conflict Management (2012-present)
  • Regional representative of the International Bar Association’s Mediation committee (2010-present)
  • Board member of the African Mediation Association (2009-present)
  • Founder and head of USB Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement (2008-present)
  • Teaching fellow at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town, South Africa (2000-present)
  • Professor extraordinaire at the Graduate School of Business of Stellenbosch University, South Africa (1997-present)

If you no longer want to leave the negotiation table feeling somehow disappointed with the outcome, ‘Negotiating to create value’ will enable you to design optimal negotiation deals. After this programme, you will be able to convince others to follow you, even in difficult settings.

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