Pekkarinen ranked highest among top politicians for negotiating skills
By Matti Mielonen
Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen of the Centre Party has been judged to be the best negotiator among Finnish top politicians. On the other hand, the highest-ranking political figures in the country, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and President Tarja Halonen, scored fairly low.
Helsingin Sanomat asked a number of figures from the inner circles of Finnish politic, as well as civil servants and aides, to evaluate the negotiating skills of 11 top politicians using the method developed by speech teacher Juhana Torkki and investment banker Sami Miettinen, which they presented in their book Neuvotteluvalta ("Negotiating Power").
"Negotiating skills do not necessarily come out in public, because negotiations are primarily held behind closed doors. The questionnaire was aimed at ascertaining how these politicians act when the media is not present", Torkki explains.
The politicians were given marks for four characteristics, one of which was the use of power. The others were analytical skills, social skills, and adherence to principle.
Halonen, Speaker of Parliament Sauli Niinistö, and MP and former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja were seen to emphasise power at the expense of social skills.
"It is common for a strong yearning for power to go hand-in-hand with weak social skills", Miettinen says.
Especially with President Halonen, the use of power is emphasised in such a way that the evaluators felt that she would sometimes go "overboard". A good negotiator uses power with consideration.
"A negotiator should not always be driving at full speed. It is more important to expand one's own room to manoeuvre, and the availability of each of the characteristics. Each characteristic should be regulated separately according to the situation at hand. Only when the situation requires, should power be used appropriately", Miettinen and Torkki say.
The lowest marks in the use of power were for Prime Minister Vanhanen.
Opposition Social Democratic Party leader Eero Heinäluoma's negotiating skills were seen to be very poor, even though he was the Minister of Finance in the previous government. However, the assessment was made in February, after Heinäluoma announced his planned resignation from the post of party leader, and before the uproar over the text messages of Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva.
Kanerva was the fourth-best in negotiating skills, but he got the lowest marks in adhering to principle.
"The idea of principle is difficult to define. It is a characteristic that matures over a long period of time in a politician. A trustworthy politician has created the impression that his or her behaviour is predictable. Capriciousness and opportunism bring down the grade", Torkki says.
A skilful negotiator is flexible and has a sense of what the situation calls for, according to Torkki and Miettinen.
A negotiator is able to control personal characteristics, and knows where his or her limitations lie. A negotiator must internalise personal characteristics, as negotiating is not a role-playing game.
Miettinen sees former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a "truly tough" negotiator.
"He took power from the Conservatives and brought his country into the Iraq war even against the will of his own country. And he survived it without being destroyed", Miettinen says.
Torkki's favourite is former president Martti Ahtisaari.
"He shows the courage of an experienced negotiator. He emphasises toughness. He needs to be able to say that this is the limit. When he steps into a room, his position comes through in a strong manner", Torkki says.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 22.3.2008
MATTI MIELONEN / Helsingin Sanomat