Negotiating Chaos at the G7 or Anywhere Else

Government heads at the G7 summit are lacking a key element all negotiations need.

To say, as many media outlets have, that geopolitical tension is complicating the agenda for this week’s G7 summit is an understatement. Consider that the meeting in Quebec, Canada, is focused on the seven nations working together to advance gender equality, fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, and build a more peaceful world, among other themes. Several of the nations participating in the summit, however, are currently at odds over many of those same issues. But concern among experts—and country leaders for that matter—over the summit’s outcome is not about a lack of common ground. The concern is over a lack of trust. 

“There’s not much else to expect from this meeting other than negotiating chaos,” says Pablo Golfari, who has been closely following trade issues leading up to the summit as Korn Ferry’s sector leader for chemicals and process manufacturing. The United States and Canada, for instance, are in heated talks over a new NAFTA deal. Germany opposes new steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on the EU by the US, while France and Japan are still smarting from the US’s pullout from the Paris Accord and the Trans-Pacific trade pact, respectively. “The level of uncertainty from a negotiating perspective has to be troubling to the G7, because it goes beyond one issue,” says Golfari. 

With so many competing agendas, trust between leaders is critical to finding solutions that unite rather than divide. But as many corporate heads know all too well, avoiding common ground as these countries have done makes negotiations far more difficult. Indeed, the rhetoric leading up to the summit is less about reconciliation and more about separation. Leaders will need to summon all the tools at their disposal to build trust—agility, diplomacy, influence, credibility, and consistency among them. 

The trouble is, according to Yannick Binvel, president of Korn Ferry’s Global Industrial Markets practice, the uncertainty is forcing participating leaders to erect barriers and be on the defensive. But that not only compounds mistrust, but also could lead to outcomes based on reaction rather than alignment. “It is important that negotiators not let emotion cloud their judgment,” says Binvel. “The challenge will be to keep focus and not get distracted or rush into short-term alliances for the sake of resolving an issue.”

The US administration’s preference for bilateral talks not only goes against the multilateral spirit of the summit, but also is chiefly responsible for the consternation among the other nations. Golfari says the more the US tries to isolate itself, the more other nations view it skeptically. “The only way to negotiate is for the other nations to embrace each other and work together,” Golfari says. But that could end up being the least productive and most dangerous negotiating tactic of them all.