Marti Ahtisaari (speaking), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of Finland, discusses his negotiating style in his acceptance of The Great Negotiator Award. Also pictured (l to r), Harvard's James Sebenius and Nicholas Burns.
Program on Negotiation
"Nobel Laureate Ahtisaari on Diplomacy, Negotiation"
Author: James F. Smith, Communications Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Negotiation 101 tells would-be mediators: Don't dictate the outcome to the parties, and keep your own opinions to yourself.
But Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland who earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his serial successes defusing several of the world's thorniest conflicts, shared some counterintuitive tradecraft when he accepted The Great Negotiator Award at Harvard University in September.
Ahtisaari told an audience of faculty and students that at the outset of each negotiation, he stated clearly to all sides what he thought the outcome would be - and then he gave the parties wide scope to reach that outcome. He also said he invoked his own values of fairness and justice to guide him rather than worry about meeting some impossible standard of objectivity.
Ahtisaari was awarded the Great Negotiator Award on September 27, 2010 between two panel discussions that examined his role in developing a final status for Kosovo between 2005 and 2008, and his mediation between rebels in the Indonesian province of Aceh and the national government toward the Helsinki Agreement in 2005.
The award was created a decade ago by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and was co-sponsored for the first time this year by the new Future of Diplomacy Project in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School.
Kennedy School Professor of Practice Nicholas Burns, faculty director of the Future of Diplomacy Project, co-presented the award and moderated the Kosovo panel. As US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008, Burns had been closely involved with the final status process. Burns said Ahtisaari deftly coped not only with an intransigent Serbian government but with fractious parties within Kosovo and complex dynamics involving the European Union, the United States and Russia.
Harvard Business School Professor James Sebenius, an expert on negotiation who is on the executive committee of the Program on Negotiation, moderated the Aceh panel.
"In all the places I have been involved, in Namibia, in Aceh, in Kosovo, I have known from the beginning what the outcome is going to be," Ahtisaari said. "If you don't, and you don't make it clear where you are coming from, you can waste the rest of your days."
Harvard Law School Professor Robert Mnookin, director of the Program on Negotiation, said in presenting the award: "You have the capacity to put yourself in shoes of people with very different perspectives. You see the world through their eyes. At the same time, you are prepared to be assertive and straightforward. In both these respects, we are learning a great deal from you."
Case studies prepared on both the Aceh and Kosovo negotiations by Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School will be used to educate Harvard students in diplomacy and negotiation.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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