As a former U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, George Mitchell knows a thing or two about heated negotiations. From his work on the Good Friday Agreement to meetings with important figures on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the former U.S. Senate majority leader has had to keep calm — and try to keep everyone around him calm — while discussing deeply controversial topics. Mitchell shares a few of his secrets in his new memoir, The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life.
Don’t be too enamored with the sound of your own voice.
Early in his career, Mitchell recounts telling his boss, then-Senator Ed Muskie, that his speeches often dragged on too long. “You’re a smart young man,” Muskie replied. “I think it’s likely that someday you’ll be in elected office, giving speeches like I have this week. When you do you’ll find that there’s nothing in the world like the sound of your own voice.”
But Mitchell learned the importance of listening after taking over Muskie’s seat in the Senate.
In other words, abide by the old proverb about having two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Focus on individuals.
In his many years in politics, Mitchell noticed a bad habit of public figures.
By making others feel important, you can more easily persuade them to see your point of view.
Take big risks.
Mitchell sees chairing the Northern Ireland peace negotiations as one of the most daring of his career, noting that the conflict was “ancient, fueled by religious and other differences,” but wanted to do the best job he could in the high-stakes environment.
In the end, the gamble worked, and Northern Ireland reached the Good Friday Agreement. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The Negotiator hits stands this week.