In late March, the IFC and the Department of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment hosted an intensive 5-day training program to help government officials from Lao People’s Democratic Republic improve their negotiation skills. Good negotiation skills can be used every day, and are essential for agreeing contracts, engaging clients, and for effective everyday interaction in the workplace. This training session presented the essentials of negotiating and advice on how to participate effectively in the decision-making process.
The training aims to improve negotiations between government officials and hydropower developers in the long term. Effective negotiations between the two parties can lead to improved environmental and social standards in the sector.
About 20 officials from Lao PDR’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Energy and Mines, and Ministry of Finance took part in the training. Although many of the participants regularly negotiate as part of their everyday work, none has received formal training in the subject. The training gave officials the opportunity to learn and practice strategies that build confidence and lead to outcomes benefiting both parties.
“An important point that the training emphasized is that the art of negotiation is not just about winning,” said Sengaloun Inmyxai, Deputy Director of Lao PDR’s External Debt Management Department, External Finance Department, Ministry of Finance. “Before I joined this training, I approached negotiations with the aim to win. Now I am a more reasonable negotiator. It’s about exploring different options and understanding both parties’ mutual interests.”
Preparation is the key to success before even sitting down at the negotiation table. Participants were guided through the “7 elements” of the negotiation cycle and practiced negotiating among peers. Practical exercises focused on the challenges facing participants, such as timidity and a lack of legal or technical knowledge, and ways to overcome these hurdles. Body language and tone of voice were some of the tactics used by participants to reach an agreement.
“‘What if they’re more powerful than me?’, ‘what if I am not an expert on the laws or technicalities of the project?’ These are some of the concerns participants raised,” said Aksone Kamsavath, Division Chief of the Department of Energy Business, Ministry of Energy and Mines. “We learned techniques to be better prepared, which will boost our confidence and improve our communication.”
Following the training, participants said they are now equipped with strategies to help them prepare more effectively before presenting their case to developers and with a more in-depth understanding of how to make negotiations win-win for all parties involved.
This training session was the first in a series of activities aimed at helping the Department of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and the Department of Energy upgrade their negotiation skills. In future training sessions, participants will have more opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge through practical exercises.