U.S. Negotiating Behavior
Briefly . . .
U.S. negotiators have a distinctive style: forceful, explicit, legalistic, urgent, and
results-oriented. Although these traits inevitably vary according to personalities and
circumstances, a recognizably pragmatic American style is always evident, shaped by
powerful and enduring structural and cultural factors.
Chief among the structural influences is the United States’ position as a preeminent
international power. The enormous breadth of U.S. global interests and the depth of
U.S. power, coupled with the increasing linkages between security, economic, envi-
ronmental, and other concerns, mean that the United States plays a leading—
indeed, often overwhelming—role in numerous negotiating forums.
While American diplomats tend to see themselves as tough but fair bargainers, most
foreign practitioners regard the United States as a hegemonic power that is less con-
cerned to negotiate than it is to persuade, sermonize, or browbeat negotiating coun-
terparts into acceding to American positions.
U.S. negotiators must work within certain constitutional constraints. Although the
president has the power to negotiate, he must do so with a watchful eye on Congress,
which is traditionally wary of foreign “entanglements.” He must also be mindful of the
electoral calendar, which by limiting the tenure of both elected officials and political
appointees often inhibits the development of a long-term approach to negotiations.
Culture significantly influences how U.S. negotiators use language and time. They
tend to be blunt and legalistic while employing a conceptual vocabulary drawn from
such diverse fields as labor relations, Christian theology, and sport. They are uncom-
fortable with silence and ignore body language. They enter a negotiation with their
own timeframe and usually press for an early agreement, especially if the issue at
stake has political significance at home.
•The United States applies pressure by simultaneously exerting its substantial and mul-
tifaceted resources. At the negotiating table, U.S. diplomats are adept at creating
“linkage” between issues and at marshalling facts and arguments as they seek to con-
vince their counterparts of the benefits of reaching an agreement on U.S. terms, and
the costs of failing to do so.
•Keen to achieve results, U.S. negotiators will use all available channels of communi-
cation—including back channels and unofficial, “track-two,” contacts—to foster
progress. Even so, the focus remains on preserving the prerogatives of the official,
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To explore the character of U.S. negotiating
behavior, the United States Institute of Peace
brought together 30 seasoned U.S. and foreign
diplomats, policymakers, and scholars. For two days,
the participants sought to identify and explain key