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Maarten boasts extensive expertise in both Dutch and international legal frameworks, complemented by his experience as a diplomat across multiple nations. He has also served as an advisor to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Currently, he leads the strategy department at &FLUENCE and holds the position of Vice Chair for the Jury at the Dutch National Negotiation Award.
Maarten has co-authored a book on negotiation, contributing valuable insights and knowledge to the field. With that said, let’s delve into the insights that Maarten shares in this episode.
Maarten van Rossum kicks off the conversation by sharing his journey into the field of negotiations. He begins by stating that while he did not have a childhood dream of becoming a negotiator, he was always intrigued by human interactions and influence. This curiosity led him to take negotiation classes during his law school years, where he realized the importance of understanding and codifying human behavior.
Maarten’s career as a diplomat further highlighted the significance of negotiation skills, which he noted were not extensively taught in Dutch schools. To address this gap, he collaborated with a colleague from the Clingendael Institute, a think tank in the Netherlands, to write a book on negotiations. The book aimed to simplify the Harvard model of negotiation and included insights from top negotiators, including CEOs, politicians, and military leaders.
Maarten’s expertise in negotiation was further developed through his role as a senior council to the Deputy Prime Ministers of the Netherlands. He emphasized the importance of creativity in negotiations, especially when resolving conflicts at high levels of government.
Later, at Heineken, Maarten applied his negotiation skills in stakeholder engagement, understanding the value of mutual success. His experiences led him to co-found &FLUENCE in The Hague, a company specializing in negotiation and influence, fulfilling what he describes as an “adolescent dream.”
Next, Nolan asks Maarten to discuss his experiences and background in the field of negotiations. He specifically inquires about the significant events or influential factors that drew Maarten into this particular line of work.
The latter responds by discussing the transition from his diplomatic career to a leadership role in the private sector at Heineken. He reflects on the similarities between diplomacy and corporate environments, emphasizing the importance of influence and networking in both realms.
Maarten introduces the concept of “corporate diplomacy,” which he shared with Aram’s student at Tuck. This concept involves understanding and leveraging the trigger points of individuals to influence outcomes beneficially.
Maarten explains that in a corporate setting, it’s crucial to comprehend the goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) of counterparts to facilitate negotiations effectively. This approach was integrated into Heineken’s global program, where leaders were trained to adopt a negotiator’s mindset, leading to enhanced success in their roles.
A significant aspect of negotiation, according to Maarten, is the ability to frame the outcomes as either a joint success or a shared absorption of loss. It is crucial for creating a favorable negotiation environment and ensuring mutually beneficial results.
He emphasizes that this approach is not only applicable in corporate settings but can also be impactful for various clients in different sectors.
Maarten further elaborates on the concept of the “corporate diplomat,” which he discussed in Aram’s class. This concept blends the skills and mindset of a diplomat with the corporate world’s needs and challenges.
Maarten argues that the typical corporate approach to conflict or negotiation often relies heavily on legal battles, which can be costly and damage relationships. He suggests that adopting a negotiator’s mindset in corporate settings can lead to more cost-effective and relationally beneficial outcomes. Instead of immediately resorting to legal action, Maarten advocates for a more proactive, negotiation-based approach that seeks understanding and cooperation upfront.
Drawing on Dutch history and culture, particularly the practice of “poldering” (consensus-building in water management), Maarten highlights the importance of collaboration and shared decision-making.
He suggests that taking more time in the negotiation’s early stages to understand each other’s positions can lead to solutions that are more widely supported and less contentious in the long run. This, while possibly more time-consuming initially, can ultimately be more effective and less disruptive than traditional corporate strategies.
Moving on, Maarten offers advice for negotiators from global companies who must navigate cross-cultural negotiations, often involving foreign governments.
He highlights the importance of avoiding generalizations about negotiation styles based on nationality. Maarten points out that individuals within the same country can have vastly different approaches to negotiation.
Instead of relying on stereotypes, he suggests focusing on understanding the individual you are negotiating with, including their personal interests, family background, and career history. This personalized approach helps in finding common ground and building a rapport.
Furthermore, Maarten advises thorough research on the organization or government you are negotiating with to understand their goals and objectives. It should include not just the institution but also the individuals involved in the negotiation process.
He also recommends asking open-ended questions during negotiations and being mindful of cultural dynamics where direct questioning might be inappropriate.
Lastly, Maarten underscores the value of building genuine relationships in negotiations, even in challenging cultural contexts. It involves seeking feedback and asking check questions to gauge the depth of the relationship and the sincerity of the interaction.
His experience in Afghanistan, where he navigated significant cultural differences, illustrates the effectiveness of this approach. Maarten strongly believes that building a strong relationship can help determine whether the negotiation is merely a formality or if there is a genuine interest in collaboration.
Nolan addresses a common challenge faced in diplomatic and corporate negotiations: aligning the interests of internal stakeholders while negotiating deals with external parties. He then asks Maaten to share any experiences Maarten might have about this challenge.
In response, Maarten underscores the importance of involving professional negotiators in significant deals rather than leaving these tasks solely to subject matter experts who may not have specialized negotiation skills. He notes that even large corporations often realize the need for expert negotiators to handle complex negotiations.
A key strategy Maarten highlights is the pre-informing and engagement of internal stakeholders. He strongly recommends involving influential individuals within the company early in the negotiation process. These individuals, who can enable or disable a deal, should be part of a special group that is kept informed and consulted throughout the negotiation. Their insights and opinions can be valuable at the negotiation table and help shape the deal.
Additionally, Maarten suggests that updating these key internal stakeholders helps prevent resistance to the deal once it’s finalized. People are less likely to oppose an agreement if they are not blindsided by it and feel they have been part of the process.
He also emphasizes the importance of celebrating negotiation outcomes within the company to recognize the work done and reinforce the value of effective negotiation as a company culture. Overall, Maarten’s advice centers on the strategic inclusion of internal opinions to guide negotiations and ensure broader acceptance of the outcomes within the organization.
On a similar note, Maarten discusses the strategy of engaging supporters and critics in the decision-making process, particularly in his experience at Heineken.
He talks about “roundtables” at Heineken, designed to bring together the company’s biggest fans and fiercest critics. This approach was part of Heineken’s broader strategy as a brand builder, focusing on crafting compelling brand narratives. By inviting these diverse groups to provide input on company policies, Heineken demonstrated a willingness to listen and engage with various opinions.
According to Maarten, the key to this approach is managing expectations. It’s important to acknowledge and respect all input, even when certain suggestions or criticisms may not be actionable. He emphasizes the value of open dialogue and explains why certain inputs may not be feasible, turning these interactions into opportunities for mutual understanding.
Maarten also introduces the concept of “dilemma logics,” which he developed during his time in government. It involves openly discussing the dilemmas and trade-offs faced in decision-making processes. By sharing these challenges, companies can help stakeholders understand the complexity of certain decisions and why specific paths were chosen. This approach can lead to procedural justice, where stakeholders feel that their views were considered, even if the final decision doesn’t align with their preferences.
Overall, Maarten advocates for continuous dialogue and engagement with various stakeholders, recognizing that while it may not always lead to an agreement, it fosters a better understanding and can mitigate potential conflicts.
Thank you for your time!
Nolan Martin : Hello and welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. As always, Nolan Martin with good friend, partner, Aram Donigian. Aram, want to kick this one off today?
Aram Donigian : I will. It's a little early in the morning on the east coast here, but we are doing that so we can be joined by a friend across the pond. Today we have Maarten van Rossum who has a background in Dutch and international law. For the first 17 years of his career, he worked in the public sector, first as a diplomat, stationed in Brussels, Washington DC, and Afghanistan. And later as an advisor to the prime minister of the Netherlands.
After moving to the private sector, he served as the global director of public affairs for the Heineken Company and he is now the head of strategy at &FLUENCE and the Vice Chair of the Jury for the Dutch National Negotiation Award. He recently co-authored the book ‘Top Negotiators ‘about the value of negotiation in our daily lives. I'll add that I recently had the privilege of welcoming Maarten to speak at my course at Tuck, and the students greatly appreciated his insights. Maarten, thank you for joining us today.
Maarten van Rossum : Dear gentlemen, it's a privilege and I'm really honored that you've come out of your bed so early to have a chat with me.
AD : I'm not in the military anymore, Maarten, so what constitutes an early morning has changed.
MvR : Yeah, I always joked in Afghanistan to the Dutch Marines with who I was in Afghanistan with. Why would we have our first meeting in the middle of the night? And they always look at me like, no, this is a normal starting period. Having lunch at 11:00 AM is also normal.
AD : That's right.
NM : Alright, Maarten, let's kick this thing off. Could you share a bit about your journey in the field of negotiations? Were there any key moments or impactful influences that pulled you into this area of work?
MvR : Well, I can't say I had a childhood dream to become a negotiator, but I was always interested in how it worked between people and where our moments of influence and of course negotiation is basically about death. So during my student years, I already attended some classes in law school basically on negotiations. And then I thought, well, isn't law all about basically codifying human behavior? And if you get the secret to that, then yeah, that could become a real success factor in life of course. I became a diplomat, and of course in diplomacy, negotiation is a life skill, but nor in Dutch schools, nor in the diplomatic academy, we're really trained to become negotiators and just skillfully think about negotiation like Aram is doing in his classes with his students.
And this sort of became a bit of my crusade, so let's call it that way, because in the Netherlands we are not really trained on negotiations. And with a friend of mine who ran the negotiations program here at the Clingendael Institute, which is basically a think tank, it's a bit different than an American think tank. There's a lot of government money behind it, of course within Europe. But he ran a negotiations program there and we decided to write a book that Aram was just referring to. And we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have the Harvard model of negotiation? The principle negotiation model explained that really well in very simple language basically to people and then have 10 top negotiators. So we wanted 11, actually 6 women, 5 men, because we still think women are better negotiators than men.
But one of the people had for a political reason had to draw out, but we asked 10 really good negotiators. So the CEO of Shell Energy company here in the Netherlands, our prime minister, a European commissioner, but also 4-star in general, people like this to share their, let's say, lessons in that book. And if you've written a book, then people all of a sudden think you're an expert. And I started helping out more people, first friends, and then we saw of course in our line of work and as a senior council to the Prime Minister, it's negotiations every day because my task for the prime minister was I was the senior council for the deputy Prime Ministers, and we don't have a large administration around our prime minister here. He's a premise into Paris. So there's no White House or the French or the German have a gigantic Bundeskanzleramt, for example, like a real administration supporting the head of state. We don't have that here.
So, it was mainly using your influence. And when the civil servants couldn't come to an agreement, when the politicians couldn't come to an agreement, we were the last level to basically iron things out and make sure that we would get to a decision and not to collapse of the government. And that's where I really saw creativity as key.
And then at Heineken, I saw the same in stakeholder engagement. If you can help each other achieving success, that's the best way of engaging of course. And then we thought, well, if people start calling us all the time, maybe we can make a company out of this. And this is when we started influence here in The Hague, two and a half years ago now. And yeah, we're building it up, but there's a big demand for it. So yeah, it's really nice to see, well, it wasn't my childhood dream, I was honest about that, but to see our, let's say adolescent dream come to reality now too.
AD : So it must've been an interesting transition as you moved from a diplomatic career to the private sector, especially into a leadership role at Heineken. So what was that like and how did your previous background prepare you for the key challenges you faced as the global director of public affairs at Heineken?
MvR : Yeah, and this is the part I remember vividly when talking to your class right. At Heineken, I basically at a certain point saw the concept of diplomacy on the one hand where you are sent to a country where you don't have any power, where you basically have to do everything based on influence, on network, and all of that. It is a really helpful concept for corporations as well. But corporations are, of course, they're trained differently. And that's why I really like for instance, you with the Tuck students, really taking that time to also put negotiations and influencing on the agenda with them because it gave me the opportunity to share the concept of corporate diplomacy where I really think if you look at it from the angle of a diplomat, you should always find the trigger points with the other person you're trying to influence. And that person normally has some form of state power around him or to make sure that they start doing what you want. This is what we started doing at Heineken as well, to really make sure that the negotiator's mindset gets into all the public affairs, but also all the leadership roles.
So we also had a global program where we really started training people on this mindset and then they became successful. I mean they were already quite successful of course, but they saw how it worked for them and how it helped them achieve the things that they needed to achieve. And that's of course, if these facts speak for themselves and then people start adopting it. Now we do it for a lot of clients, basically saying, first you really need to deeply understand what your counterpart wants, what his or her KPIs are, and how you can help achieve them if they then say yes, and this is of course a negotiation 101, but if they then say yes, then you can ask, okay, well if we're going to jointly try to achieve this, then here's my ask for you and let's see if we can get to an agreement.
And really also at the end of any deal in a negotiation, you always have to try to sell the win or sell the loss of course, and making the bend basically and really thinking about that together or, so how can we sell this as our joint success basically? And if there is a loss in it, how can we absorb the shock of the loss jointly? That part is really the part I think where we can make a difference then.
AD : So Maarten, this is that idea of the corporate diplomat that you shared with my class. It's a term that I had not heard before. I think it's a wonderful blend of your background, both your diplomatic and corporate experiences. Is there more that our listeners should understand by what you mean by corporate diplomat to continue to expand on what you were just saying and maybe again, why this concept would have merit for negotiators regardless of maybe industry or situation?
MvR : Yeah, I think it's basically taking the negotiator's mindset into a classic, let's say corporate environment. And with a classic corporate environment, I mean if you look at the toolbox that most corporates have, it's mostly listen, send in legal, fight a battle, and you bring your leadership in ultimately to try to resolve things, right? But I always say if you look at the total transaction there, it's quite a costly operation. It also ruins relations of course. So getting your way by means of fighting, let's call it that way. I'm generalizing of course a little bit, but it's still the way for most corporations to get what they want. And basically what we're trying to explain is you can do it much more effectively if you do a shorter negotiation upfront, and if you look at the total transaction, it'll become more effective.
And Dutch, as you know, the Dutch are famous for their bouldering. Back in the day, we all had to fight the water together. So we would all come, let's say the village councils would come together and they would talk about how to fight the water together and build the windmill wear and how, so this polling is really in our DNA, and we were sometimes accused by other governments saying, yeah, we didn't take so long in the Netherlands because we boulder upfront. But what it does, one thing is that if the decision is taken, it's really a decision that is supported by most parties that are involved and you'd get less fuss afterwards.
And that's also maybe a bit of my DNA, Dutch's DNA, flowing into this concept where they say, if you take more time upfront and really try to understand, get through cooperation, see this, it's a joint problem that you have to solve because that's why you're at the table together. So that could really be helpful in making sure that the front end is maybe a little bit more lengthy, it takes a bit more investment, and you might give away a little bit more in the beginning, but ultimately it's more effective. So yeah, that's the deep dive into it Aram.
AD : Thanks.
NM : I'd love to build upon that last question, Aram. So what advice do you have for negotiators of global companies working across cultures and oftentimes need to negotiate with foreign governments?
MvR : Yeah, to me, the first thing I always do is warn against generalizations, right? I take it you're both American, but you probably have a different negotiation style. So if I just judge you by saying, okay, Nolan’s American, I have to negotiate with him. This is the way Americans negotiate. Yeah, it's probably different from Aram’s style and it's probably different from, I don’t know, a truck driver from Iowa or a doctor from Kansas. And you all have different negotiation styles. So I always find it hard to say Americans negotiate like this, Dutch people negotiate like this.
Having said that, taking into account that you are going to negotiate in a foreign environment, it's an away game basically. You try to gather as much information as possible. So really what I always say is try to research the whole person, not just the flag, okay, he's American, but then what? Does he like football, soccer, boxing maybe. Okay. And we can maybe find common ground in that. What does his family look like? What does his past career look like? I mean, Aram and I both served in Afghanistan, so maybe that's a nice angle to go at it, right?
So that's the person. And then really also try to understand, so what is the organization trying to achieve here? What is my stakeholder trying to achieve, not just the person. And if we really do a good deep dive into that part, and then start with a gigantic amount of open questions, and of course it has to be balanced because in some cultures asking all these questions is a bit of a, has the dynamics on its own. So really be mindful of that. And from that point on, you also have to get advice. That's my last advice always. Companies that they say, we do intercultural advice, I would dismiss those, but I would find somebody that knows that party really well.
So let's say if you're negotiating in Japan with a company like Mitsubishi for example, better find somebody that knows Mitsubishi really well and hire them as your advisor, can be a law firm, can be a communications firm, can be a former captain of industry, I don’t know. But find somebody that knows your stakeholder really well and their surroundings and those are better advisors than these general, ‘I know how to negotiate with the Germans’ kind of people. To me that doesn't make sense, but that's my personal opinion of course. But doing your research really well I think goes for any negotiation, but especially if you go in intercultural negotiations, do your research really well upfront and also again, within the boundaries of what is possible. Also try to open the conversation person to person and also asking, are we on the right track here? And that's not possible in every culture, but I found it amazing the depth of some of the relations I could establish in Afghanistan for example, where it's not not known as the most open people in the world. And the cultural difference between Afghanistan and Netherlands are really big.
So it's not an easy game to play, but really try to build that relation and to also at certain points find feedback and ask check questions and then you can see whether they like you or not or whether they are just negotiating with you because they have to. And then you can see whether you're really building that relation.
AD : Yeah, one of the best pieces of advice that I was given from one of our Afghan colleagues was the first question you should ever learn to speak in another question is what is to indicate a desire to learn about another culture? And I hear this kind of coming through with what you're saying, Maarten, just a curiosity and a real interest in knowing you as a whole person and your culture. Language is a big part of this, and I'm just curious to go one step further as you've had to work through interpreters or cultural experts because of the translation of languages.
Are there unique challenges that you faced? What advice do you have when the two parties that are discussing things, they don't speak the same language?
MvR : That and virtual negotiations to me are, yeah, it's a gigantic extra handicap. So I build in time for that. And of course showing interest in the language. I mean nothing is better than if you speak the other's language, even though it's only a few words. If Americans say, [speaks Dutch], when they come here, I go like, oh, so nice, they're at least making the effort, right? So trying to make that effort on purpose. Well, I didn't have any idea that I would ever learn Dari for the time that I was posted in Afghanistan.
One thing I did is I merged my cultural advisor and my interpreter into one person, because to me it didn't work with going there with two people giving different advices. So I asked my interpreter to become the cultural advisor as well. But it was a nice example, I was talking to a mayor of the province of a big city in the province. We were located in Kunduz, and that mayor was invited to the Netherlands by the government as part of an influential program, but also showing our relation and how good the relation was.
And at a certain point I had to go to him and construct his program in the Netherlands. So he wanted to go to a park. I was like, yeah, we have lots of those, that's not a problem. But then my interpreter said, he doesn't mean a park like trees and stuff, but he means like an amusement park. I don’t know, Disney World. Okay, but that's good, otherwise I would've sent him to, I don't know, a park here. That would be a bit of a challenge, right? And then the other thing he said, but the Netherlands of course is known for its gigantic shoreline, a small country long shoreline here, he wanted to go to a beach.
AD : Makes sense.
MvR : Makes sense. But I also had to tell him, okay, beaches in [inaudible] look a little bit different and than what you're used to here probably. And that could be a gigantic shopper of course for a mayor who was our host at that side. So my culture advisor at that point said, but I think that's exactly the reason why he wants to go to the beach.
So, for us it was having these little, being mindful yourself of what could go wrong. So double check basically. Are we talking about the same thing here and building in a lot of time? Because first of all, translation takes time, but also building in time to really try to understand each other and really have the people that are supporting you at that point also making sure, okay, I'm going to make a joke now, translate it as a joke. So I also gave advice to my advisors, again, this is what I want to achieve, so make sure, and then I always hoped that the people that I talked to wouldn't understand Dutch because otherwise it's really, I had it a few times that you get translated in, but so papiamento the language in Aruba, I speak the language, but if they don't know that you speak it, then you can hear everything they say. Of course, gathering great intel.
NM : Whether in diplomatic or corporate positions, we often hear people talk about, do you need challenges of aligning internal stakeholders while negotiating deals with external counterparts? Do you have any experiences and lessons learned that you could share as it relates to this challenge?
MvR : Yeah, I think that's key. And I think it's also a point that many negotiators forget. So first of all, yeah, we always say you see a lot of negotiations taking place in a company where, I don’t know, the dispute is about books. So the person that is responsible for books gets to do the negotiation. I don't think that's a wise choice. I think you should hire negotiators for this, but that's my own parish of course a little. But we really see the difference. The big international corporations that we'd help with, one of them even said, this is our profession, we are not negotiators.
So they saw the light basically and they started hiring us because they needed this negotiation expertise. Everything we do for clients. And a big part of it is also internal alignment and internal celebrations if you get to the deal. But I always say imagine you're sitting behind your desk and you, especially if it's the big existential deals for your company or things that will impact the lives of many people in the company. You sit at a desk and all of a sudden you hear like, hey, news bulletin, we reach the deal. And then people, they only see the end result of the deal. So they have an opinion on it, which is not always helpful. And so that can create opposition against the deal, which is the last thing you want. You struggled with the other parties for quite some time probably to get to the deal.
So what we try to advise people is to first start with a small group. They have people with an opinion on whatever you add, the products that you're negotiating about or the deal that you're negotiating about. There's always enablers to be found or also disablers to be found in companies and first draw them in, make them this very special, okay, I'm giving away strategy right now, but make them this very special group that you really want to pre inform and that you also want to download. I mean they have an opinion on it, so they will keep having an opinion on it.
So if you can download them on their views of the deal or what might work or would not work, it's even helpful for you at the table again. And then keep them informed, making sure they don't get to zero from a hundred, which a hundred is the deal in one day. So basically let them get used to, make them part of the endeavor and making sure, this is a negotiation team, this is our leadership team. They do this work, but you can provide your input, you can provide your opinions and we would love you to also reshare this. So sometimes we ask people, I get the four or five most opinionated people in your, bring them in, make them a trustworthy partner and make sure they become the ambassador of the deal. They're working on really good stuff there. This is a good team. And basically try to create your own positive vibe and when you have it, celebrate it.
I mean, explain also the downsides of the deal maybe, but if you put all the time and effort and I don’t know, travel and whatever you put in it, make sure you explain it well to the people that you work for basically. And make sure you celebrate it together. This is a milestone, we should really celebrate this together. This is success we achieved. And with that, the side effect is of course, that you also celebrate good negotiation outcome within the company, which I think is key because it tells people this is what we expect from you.
NM : Absolutely. Thank you.
AD : What I heard you saying there was it's not just about bringing our greatest fans to the table. Sometimes we got to bring our greatest critics as well and involve them in the process and that's hard to do.
MvR : Yeah. At Heineken, we are brand builders, so making a good story behind the brand is key. And I introduced a few public affairs and negotiation brands and one of them was the roundtables in which we would speak to our greatest fans and fiercest critics. I always call it sounds nice and Dutch at least, and making sure we get their input on our policies. And to me it does a few things because you actually listen. Well first of all you invite them. So that's step one, right? Everybody that gets invited to, I know a government or a big corporation or people that actually want their input and their advice is normally like you feel extra special and you can tell other people that you can go to, I don’t know, the government or to Heineken into other groups and then really listen carefully and make sure where you can say, okay, this is input we can use.
But also make sure you manage expectations right. If there's input you can't use or basically say, let's have another conversation to better understand what you're trying to achieve because maybe we can work together on this one and well if we have that, then also tell the other people in your company that you're doing this.
So that's basically what we talked about. But it's not always easier and sometimes you just can't agree. I dunno, there's NGOs that don't want oil companies to exist. Okay, well that's hard, but then you can always still have a conversation I think. And getting a face and getting that relation works in a mitigating way, have a good conversation. Okay, so how do we do this and what do you expect from us? And okay, should we close down a shell in two years? That's impossible. Have all these effects and then you can at least try to explain the dilemmas that you run into. I call it dilemma logics. It's the thing we developed at the government here. If you talk about your dilemmas, not so much about the direction you chose, but if you talk about the dilemmas, then people will also see, okay, I get this, so they have to weigh this against this.
Then I get it, why they made this choice. And then give something of procedural justice where people think, well, they at least took some time to think about it. It's not an overnight choice. And they consulted a lot of people. And to me it doesn't always relate to positive outcome, but it's at least better than doing nothing and it keeps you in a permanent dialogue with others.
NM : Hey everyone, Nolan here. I have to jump in and end the podcast for part A of this show. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe and NEGOTIATEx podcast if you haven't already. And also join us next week for part B of this awesome interview.
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