2014 Yearbook

R E V I E W 37 THE ART OF NEGOTIATION JO EVANS Is it fair to call negotiation an ‘art’? Unlike music or painting it doesn’t require an innate talent from the outset. Successful negotiation can be learned and when it is learned – and practised – well, it is a skill that can properly be described as an art. We can look to professional negotiators for inspiration. Political negotiators can achieve the seemingly impossible. They appear to reconcile the most intractable factions. Relationship mediators handle delicate and bruised emotions and egos where the personal stakes for the individuals are as high as those for political groups. So, if the impossible seems possible in the political world and in mediation at times of extreme stress, why is it that listed building consent submissions can seem so intractable? Like all negotiations, they will never go swimmingly if the parties involved are stubborn and inflexible. There are a few golden rules: DISCUSS OUTCOMES Firstly, it is no use working in the dark. Find out exactly what the other party wishes to achieve from the negotiation. It may sound obvious but meetings and discussions often go off the rails because one party does not understand what outcome another party wants or anticipates. Applicants often think that the outcome required is listed building consent with the minimum alteration to their proposal. They might, for example, ask ‘How large an opening can I make in this 17th-century panelling?’ However, a conservation specialist can often find a way to accommodate the client’s underlying requirement in a way that satisfies the conservation requirements too. If, for example, the client’s need for a master bedroom with an en suite bathroom can be accommodated elsewhere in the building, there is no point in spending hours locked in an argument about the significance of the panelling and the point of listing. The agent should set out the proposals clearly and justify what is being advocated. However, the planning authority must also be clear about constraints and explain them properly. Very often the lay person is completely baffled by the process and will be alienated if it is not explained adequately in clear and accessible terms. The use of specialist professional language can seem designed to exclude and there is little point in talking about ‘special interest’ or ‘value’ or ‘significance’ if the meaning and context of those terms is unclear. That said, there can be a fine line between elucidation and lecturing. SEE BOTH SIDES Try to see the situation from other people’s perspectives. Some applicants don’t seem to value the historic character of their buildings, but similarly conservation officers can come across as pedantic and controlling. If the conservation officer starts a meeting by saying ‘you can’t change anything and if you do it’s a criminal offence’; or the applicant’s opening line is ‘I have to build these five houses or my business will go under’, then the relationship is only likely to deteriorate further. It is most important that both sides remain positive and focus on helping each other to find a solution. Some clients find the process of applications and submissions frustrating but equally their aspirations need some background, some explanation and enough detail to show that their proposal is appropriate. An application cannot be properly assessed without the requisite information to explain the proposed work’s rationale, background and any relevant technical information. Similarly, an officer of the council should not present a list of obstacles to a project’s approval without proper explanation or justification. Both parties need to explain clearly what is proposed and, equally, what is acceptable. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY It is essential that all parties communicate effectively. If an argument cannot be articulated clearly then it is not going to persuade. It is not enough for a conservation officer © Rob Cowan