4 negotiation lessons from the Twitter feud POTUS had with Mexico’s President

Assegid Habtewold

By Assegid Habtewold[i]

My new book ‘Soft Skills That Make or Break Your Success’ unveiled 12 soft skills that are critical to achieving personal mastery, get along with, and lead others successfully. One of the four vital soft skills necessary to lead others is the ability to negotiate for win-win deals. Unlike in the past, today’s leaders cannot accomplish anything meaningful without engaging in constant negotiation. The days where leaders just give the order to realize their goals are literally over. In the 21st C, as they set goals, assign tasks to their team members, interact with their peers, superiors, and other stakeholders within and outside of their organizations, they need to excel in negotiating for win-win deals.


In this article, let me share with you one of the insights I shared in the book, which is, not revealing everything at the onset of any negotiation. Negotiation is an art and requires being strategic in our approaches and timing. To illustrate the vitality of this wisdom, I shared the informal negotiation between US President Trump and Mexico’s President Nieto at Twitter.


You might have already read or watched the news about Mexico’s President, Enrique Pena Nieto, canceling a meeting with US President Donald Trump. If you review the events leading to the cancellation, you wouldn’t be surprised. On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to build the wall on the southern border of the US believing that Mexico will pay the cost in one form or another.


This decision was unilateral and was made without the consent of Mexico’s government.  The Executive Order offended members of Mexico’s delegate who was in the US at that time to have some forms of negotiations with Trump’s administration. Following the signature, the high-level representatives called their President to cancel the scheduled meeting with Trump.


On Thursday, while this was still going on, Trump tweeted saying: “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” It didn’t take long for Mexico’s President to just do that- he canceled the planned meeting on Tuesday the following week, like Trump, via Twitter: This morning we have informed the White House that I will not attend the meeting scheduled for next Tuesday with the POTUS.”


Why he canceled the meeting, you may ask, especially knowing that Mexico is going to lose the most? For your information, according to US Census Bureau, Mexico is US’s 3rd largest trading partner. Not only that, reports show that Mexico exports more than it imports- $63 billion dollars in deficit.

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It is simple. In any negotiation, if you give your counterpart an ultimatum with your walking away price upfront and honestly (in this case, Trump revealed that he walks away if Mexico doesn’t agree to pay for the wall), your counterpart immediately realizes your best and worst scenarios. And, if they figure out that they won’t get a satisfactory agreement from a negotiation and somehow they could be able to live with the worst scenario, they walk away. That is what Mexico’s President just did.


Below are four valuable lessons from the Twitter feud POTUS had with Mexico’s President, which may help you in your future negotiations:

  1. Don’t give ultimatum upfront before the start of any negotiation. This applies to you even if you have the upper hand as you enter into any negotiation. Of course, if your desire is a win-win deal. I’m not sure whether Trump was making a tactical move to begin the negotiation from a strong ground or whether that was a misstep and oversight or brutal honesty. Otherwise, you shouldn’t reveal your position honestly at the wrong time; most importantly, you shouldn’t demand concessions before the start of a negotiation. You should wait for the right time to demand concessions, and if necessary to make some concessions.


  1. Don’t reveal the bottom-line too soon. This is especially important during negotiations between two nations. Negotiations in business are entirely different than negotiations between nations, especially those from different cultures. In the case of business negotiations, as far as the negotiators get a deal acceptable by the majority of the shareholders, they may be considered successful. Unfortunately, negotiations between countries are complex. There are many stakeholders with diverse, sometimes irreconcilable, interests and priorities. Trump attempted to negotiate on Twitter and revealed his bottom lines honestly for all stakeholders too soon. Sensitive negotiations should be done behind closed doors, at least, at the initial stage. There should be an agreement from both parties on how and when to communicate the progress of the negotiation to their respective stakeholders.


  1. Don’t undermine emotions. Negotiations should consider both positive and negative roles emotions play. In their book ‘Beyond Reason’, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro discussed the critical roles emotions play. They believed that people experience both positive and negative emotions as they negotiate. The authors claimed that people have difficulty to deal with their own and the emotions of others, and that affect the success of negotiations. His inner circle and thousands of ordinary citizens pressured Enrique because they felt that Trump’s publicly displayed tweets did hurt their national pride! According to news from Mexico, the President was forced to cancel the meeting because citizens felt that their country and its people are bullied, and therefore, regardless of the economic consequences of walking away from the negotiation, they demanded their President cancel the meeting. “Emotions of the negotiating parties play critical roles for the success of a given negotiation. Recognizing my emotions and the message they may send, and also reading the emotions of others to recognize where they are in the negotiation.” In this regard, Daniel Goleman also acknowledged, “Without the ability to sense our own feelings- or to keep them from swamping- we will be hopelessly out of touch with the moods of others.” Sharpening one’s negotiation skills requires understanding our emotions and regulating them so that we may not send inadvertent messages that may be used against us. And also the ability to read our counterparts’ emotions and tap into that knowledge to lead the other party where we want to take them without manipulating.
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  1. Don’t damage long-term relationships. Neighboring countries like the US and Mexico shouldn’t just negotiate to get a better financial deal. They need each other for other collaborations that are critical to their countries, people, and the region. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t aim at getting better deals for their respective countries, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of permanently damaging their relationship. Win-lose negotiations always burn bridges and also injure healthy relationships. For Sunil Mittal- billionaire Indian telecom tycoon, “Relationship is very important. I can lose money, but I cannot lose a relationship. The test is, at the end of a conversation or a negotiation, both must smile.”


At the time of this writing, it’s too early to reach any conclusion, too premature. However, going forward, I’m sure that the two nations may keep working on a win-win deal, at least, behind the scene… I guess they have already realized that negotiation doesn’t succeed on Twitter.


[i] Assegid Habtewold is a coach, consultant, and soft skills and leadership workshop facilitator at Success Pathways, LLC (http://www.successpws.com). His new book is available at Amazon. To download the first part and conclusion of the book for free, and also get more info about the book, check out this link: http://successpws.com/?page_id=2254

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