Three Models of Negotiation Sequencing

Joshua Weiss

Associate Director, Global Negotiation Project, Program on Negotiation, Harvard University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003


A: Well, the three models are the gradual, incremental one, step by step to the larger; then the boulder in the road approach, where you deal with the hardest issue and try to get that out of the way, and then you go easier; and the third is the committee one. I'm not even saying change the gradual process. What I'm saying is change the way that you think about the core issues, and that it might still be a good thing to have some confidence building measures and issues, as in a gradual process, but don't leave the final status issues for much later. Make them part of the gradual process. Maybe when you're looking at some of the core issues in the conflict, see which ones could be broken down further, fractionated, and then have people start working on elements of those.

Again, if you want to go back to the issue of Jerusalem, there are a number of facets in the issue of Jerusalem that when you're talking about sovereignty or civil authority, how the city itself is going to function, etc., that people could have been making progress on and thinking through. Then maybe down the road when people started talking about Jerusalem, it wouldn't be such a taboo, because issues are essentially held sacred, and the longer you avoid talking about them, the more weight they take on and the more mysterious they remain. When you start to break them down and you start to think about them and you start to operationalize the different pieces of them, they're not so daunting.

Q: There's more familiarity, there's less fear of actually speaking the word, or using the name of whatever the hard topic is.

A: Right, and then there are actually other approaches that are designed in essence to almost avoid the question of sequencing. I interviewed President Carter as part of my dissertation, and he said that he used a single negotiating text approach to actually avoid sequencing, that he'd much rather do it in one large text. He said that sequencing became irrelevant for the parties because they saw that their issue was involved. Now, in this approach, how it all fits into the implementation is a bit different than your plan for the actual negotiation process, but that's another way in which somebody tried to handle the sequencing question differently. Most people don't think about the single negotiating text approach as a way of dealing with sequencing. Part of what I'm trying to get at is that sequencing is kind of like the elephant in the room. I just want to sort of shine a light on it, and say we need to think about this in a different way, and give mediators, give parties, give whomever else, choices, instead of just thinking there's one way to do it. Because as we've seen in general in conflict, that's very debilitating, and it doesn't often get us where we want to be.