Indaba Negotiation Strategy To Reach Big Decisions

Monday, January 11th, 2016

DiscussionFor the first time in history, 195 countries were able to reach a joint consensus to take legal action against climate change (at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference). Reaching such a definite, binding decision was no easy process, especially when there are so many parties involved with conflicting stances and perspectives on the matter. A contributing part of the successful solution was to use a discussion technique originating from the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa, known as Indaba. Indaba works because it gives everyone a voice, and in order to have an opinion you also must provide solutions to other people. It reduces bias due to size or power, which can greatly hinder international level political debates.

How Indaba Works

The Indaba process works by breaking into smaller groups of 6-10 people, which can be rotated and changed during the discussions to ensure an even distribution of voices and process. A facilitator is required to oversee the process, and raises a question for the group to consider. This question is passed around the group, and each person is given an equal amount of time to speak without interruption – however they must only use “I” statements. They are encouraged to speak personally, and outline their limitations and lines they cannot cross. However, in stating their limitations, they must also provide solutions to find a common ground and figure out acceptable compromises. Everyone’s statements are written down into a summary, which can then be shared with the larger group.

For the climate talks, this was a remarkably effective system – in some cases achieving a breakthrough within 30 minutes. Because of the highly fair and open nature of the discussions, when the final agreement was presented, it was adopted by 195 countries with no objections.

Indaba In Your Workplace

There are valuable business lessons to be learned from the indaba technique that can be applied to any workplace. The key is focus on acceptable compromises and to allow equal amounts of uninterrupted speaking time to each member of the group – it can often be that the biggest ego and the loudest voice wins out without actually considering everyone’s point of view. This can mean that the best solution goes undiscovered.

Indaba is a community-based discussion approach that operates by assuming everyone’s voice is equally valuable, which is why in can be effective in both international diplomatic discussions and workplace meetings that need to find solutions to difficult problems.

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Mark started in the Internet industry in 1994 working with one of Canterbury’s first Internet Service Providers. In 1997 Rocket launched New Zealand Tourism Online and then Avatar Web Promotions in 1998. New Zealand Tourism Online was sold to Telecom Yellow Pages in 2006. Mark enjoys meeting with Avatar’s clients and strategising winning Web solutions. When not at Avatar HQ, Mark’s into playing tennis, going on family camping trips and supporting the private space industry.

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