The Nullarbor Model

Appendix 5: The Nullarbor Model
The trans-Australian railway, which runs from Sydney to Perth, opened
in standard gauge in 1970. The journey is 3961 km, making it one of the
world’s great train journeys. Known as the Indian Pacific, it takes three
days. What makes the route distinctive is that it has the longest length of
straight track anywhere in the world – 478 km in a dead-straight line (see
Figure 5.3, p. 80,
Chapter 5). It is this straightness that forms the basis of
the imagery for our prescriptive model of negotiation.
A prescriptive model describes what ought to happen for a good
outcome to be achieved. It may be a bit idealistic but if it also has a
degree of realism – which this one does – then it can help us negotiate
better.
The Nullarbor Model recognises the competitiveness of negotiation
but seeks to emphasise the importance of moving a negotiation through
phases and to spend as much time as possible in cooperative problemsolving activities. The underlying premise is that if the right steps are
followed then the process of cooperating in finding solutions is quite
straightforward and
will yield a good quality outcome to meet the needs
of the parties. However it is not an idealistic ‘win-win’ model; the journey
to Perth might not be completely straightforward.
We start the journey at Sydney.
The Nullarbor Model
Getting started: preparation
The Indian Pacific is not the only way to get to Perth. You can drive(!) or
go by plane. This reminds us that even before sitting down to negotiate,
it is important to consider your alternatives and decide whether you have
to negotiate at all.
Negotiation point
The importance of alternatives and the non-negotiation option.
Managing the negotiation
Do I really need to negotiate?
What will happen if I don’t?
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Getting started: at the negotiation table
Leaving Sydney the train has to work its way through the Blue Mountains,
which isn’t easy. This represents the fact that early in the negotiation there
is often some unexpected conflict. We can’t expect negotiations to go
smoothly and so we need to manage this conflict without overreacting or
letting it affect our approach on the issues.
Negotiation point
The role of conflict and the effort needed to overcome it.
Managing the negotiation
Does the conflict coming across the table indicate the approach that
the other party is going to adopt or is it that we are just going through
the Blue Mountains and it will settle down?
If so I should just work my way through it rather than develop a
reciprocal response to what they are doing.
Continuing at the negotiation table
Even when you have got as far as Broken Hill, you can still get off the
train, go back to Sydney and get on a plane to Perth. This reminds us that
even when involved in a negotiation, and making progress, we still have
other alternatives. They are becoming increasingly costly but they are still
available to us.
Negotiation point
Alternatives remain but are increasingly costly.
Managing the negotiation
Now I’m getting to understand the issues between us better and
what might and might not be achievable, is it still worth my while
negotiating?
Needing to cooperate because they need to settle
In our Nullarbor imagery we are saying that as the train travels across
South Australia the passengers stop leaving Sydney and start going to
Perth. Of course, they are doing both for the whole journey but at some
point (and not necessarily halfway) they start thinking more about the
destination than the place they have left. This represents the period in

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a negotiation where both parties realise that they are going to have to
work with the people across the table in order to reach an agreement.
What’s more, by the time you get to the edge of the Nullarbor Plain,
you really don’t have any alternatives – you can’t get out and walk! In
negotiation terms, you get to a point where your only realistic alternative
is to cooperate with the other side.
Negotiation point
The joint need for agreement –> cooperation.
Managing the negotiation
Am I really sure that they are willing to look for genuine compromises
or are they still expecting me to make all the moves?
Do I need to ‘talk process’ before giving any more information or
making any suggestions?
Finding solutions
But what does ‘cooperation’ mean in practice?
It’s quite straightforward. Firstly, analyse the issues you now face recognising that you have a joint problem, not an individual one. Then exchange
as much information as possible and explore the different perspectives
which this new information reveals. Finally, invent new and different
options to resolve the problem.
Negotiation point
Cooperation means rational problem solving.
Managing the negotiation
Are they likely to see any proposals I suggest as being firm commitments?
Can we keep this as tentative and exploratory for as long as possible to see what might develop?
We should be aware that all sorts of things can go wrong in a long train
journey – the track can flood, the Indian Pacific can get stuck behind a
slow freight train; perhaps some of the passengers are showing signs of
frustration at how long the journey is taking.
Finding solutions, even while endeavouring to be cooperative, might
still involve some competitive trading of offers and some periods of slow,
or no progress.

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Keeping going
The next big stop after the Nullarbor is the gold mining centre of
Kalgoorlie where you can get off the train and fly or drive to Perth.
In terms of our image of negotiation this tells us that having worked
through various options we still have to check whether the agreement
we are putting together is better than what we might achieve by walking away and pursuing another alternative. However, a proper application of the problem-solving approach should result in an outcome that
clearly adds value and so is better than any alternative. So you keep
negotiating.
Negotiation point
Alternatives exist but are not attractive.
Managing the negotiation
We’ve come up with some potential solutions but are they better for
me than walking away from this negotiation?
The end game of negotiation
The final run into Perth follows the twisting course of the Avon Valley.
Often just when you think you have an agreement in your sights, conflict
resurfaces, perhaps over an issue that had been overlooked, or because
one party tries to extract some extra value out of the agreement. The
premise of the problem-solving approach is that the negotiators will have
found a high quality agreement which meets the needs of both parties.
This being so the best way to overcome any last minute difficulties is to
emphasise the benefits of the agreement rather than make any last minute
concessions just to wrap up the deal.
Negotiation point
The high quality of the potential agreement overcomes conflict to
bring closure.
Managing the negotiation
Does this final competitive pressure from the other party mean they
are fundamentally unhappy with the outcome?
In which case, do we need to go back and travel across the Nullarbor again or is it an end-game play and I should just stand firm?

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The agreement
Perth is a great city and while the journey there might be enjoyable as well
as challenging, what is important is how visitors enjoy themselves while
there. It is the same with negotiation. Achieving an agreement may have
been both challenging and satisfying but what really matters is how well
that agreement is implemented.
And just as the visitors to Perth may well take time out to reflect on
their journey so too should negotiators see what might be done better
next time.
Developing your own image of negotiation
The railway imagery may not ‘work’ for you. If so, then try to develop
another imagery that you can use. It needs to be something that involves
a sequence of events and activities rather than a single or short activity. For
example, if you go sailing – perhaps a yacht race; if you like classical music –
perhaps your favourite symphony; if you like cooking (and eating) – perhaps the process of preparing (and eating!) a meal. Or maybe consider
negotiation as constructing a building; as a game of chess; as a marriage
or a dance. (In
Chapter 10 images of rock and roll and of a banquet are
used to describe cross-cultural negotiations.)
Use your imagery to identify some of the key points in negotiation.
This may need a bit of creativity but don’t try to ‘stretch’ your image too
far or the imagery will not work for you in the heat of a negotiation. It is
not necessary to have everything covered in your image; it simply needs
to bring to mind the key features of negotiation. Perhaps try your imagery
out on a colleague or friend for their ideas and suggestions. Then try it
out next time you negotiate and refine you imagery over time.
A route to agreement
The usefulness of creating an image of the negotiation process is that it
helps us evaluate how much progress is being made and how well the
process is being managed. It helps keep the negotiations ‘on track’.
The image of a negotiation as a trip across Australia provides a checklist of negotiation points to consider when you are sitting in a negotiation wondering ‘what’s going on here? Where exactly are we in these
negotiations?’

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The Nullarbor Model of negotiation – a summary
The importance of alternatives and the non-negotiation option:
We are still in Sydney – do we really need to negotiate at all?
The role of
conflict and the effort needed to overcome it:
Are we still going through the Blue Mountains? There’s some conflict but it’s OK,
we should expect it.
Ongoing alternatives but increasingly costly:
Are we at Broken Hill? We are not making much progress – can we get off?
The
joint need for agreement–> cooperation:
Are we going through South Australia?
Are we ready to work with them to find agreement?
Are they ready to work with us?
Cooperation means rational
problem solving:
We are crossing the Nullarbor — Are we cooperating fully?
Alternatives exist but are not attractive:
We are at Kalgoorlie. We’ve explored some possibilities but are they good enough?
The
high quality agreement overcomes conflict to bring closure
We are in the Avon Valley.
We are experiencing some last minute problems.
We must focus on the benefits of the agreement.
Remember: this is a view of what
ought to happen, not what does happen.