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When U.S. President Barack Obama says he doesn't bluff, is he bluffing?

Larry Downing/Reuters/Larry Downing/Reuters

Barack Obama recently warned, with respect to the Iranian nuclear situation, that "as the President of the United States, I don't bluff." But Vancouver-based negotiations expert Neil Patton, in his Pre-Think newsletter, says the fact that he had to make such a statement indicates a negotiating weakness that we all can learn from.

The challenge for negotiators is to have credibility when they communicate their message, be it one of collaboration or of resolute firmness. "If a negotiator exclusively and consistently manages their negotiations from one side of the spectrum, their credibility and predictability with other parties can be negated," Mr. Patton writes. "When a consummate collaborator threatens harsh terms, they will often be questioned [about]their resolve, as will the feisty perpetual battler be doubted when they suddenly come to the altar of co-operation."

Mr. Obama is viewed as a collaborator. That can be effective, Mr. Patton says, but situations can arise when it's not. "It is not about whether you are co-operative or competitive. It's about whether you are credible in declaring either. When the President of United States needs to declare he's not bluffing, maybe he is."

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If you tend toward one end of the spectrum (too collaborative, or too rigid) and want to expand your credibility, he says, choose a negotiation of low consequence to exercise the other approach.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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