Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Leaving it to the last minute


While writing this column the Beed was eagerly awaiting the decision of the Appellate Tribunal on the petition submitted by hotels and Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) demanding the declaration of strikes in hotels illegal. By the time this goes out to readers, a decision will have been made, but that will not take away from the central question: did Nepalis deserve such an impasse?

As your melancholy correspondent often has occasion to remark in these pages, our problem is that we react, but don't know how to be pro-active. The eleventh hour for us gets whittled down to the nail-biting fifty-ninth minute of the last hour. Add to that our uniquely bumbling manner of conducting negotiations, and the government's lassitude and you see how bad things can get. This isn't about minor impasses either. Our service charge situation is a trifle compared with how we've failed to clear the air to get the Maoists to the table and talking. A month ago, hoteliers were ready to talk and agreed to negotiate through all outstanding issues, not just the service charge. Representatives of the hotels' workforce were also ready to finally agree on a resolution to the whole unsavoury affair. But the issue remained unresolved.

One of the first things you learn in business school, or in a real business, is the art of negotiation. And one of the fundamentals is the lesson that the negotiating psyche, or the one being negotiated with is never the same. It cannot be reduced to a few constant features. A party ready to resolve a particular issue at a particular time will not have the same intentions later. Situations and motivations change, especially after one or both sides are ready to talk, but their attempts are frustrated. It's like going to buy something. A buyer is ready to pay a particular price at a point of time, and a seller may be willing to sell at that price at that time. If the transaction does not take place then, it might be hard to find the same consensus later. In the case of the service charge impasse, all parties concerned overlooked this fact. We forget that negotiations are based firstly on prevailing conditions. The issue is ensuring that they are conducted properly and are result-oriented. Let's stop dreaming about the perfect "talks", and just focus more on having good negotiations.

There are even consulting firms whose forte is negotiation, a vital aspect of management skills. We're just singularly-and uniformly-bad at it. Just look at our talks with India on water or trade issues. Or for that matter our attempted negotiations with the WTO. To be fair, it isn't just lack of talking and listening skills-we also do little homework and wake up too late. The current government believes indecision is the best form of governance. The government realised in December the importance of tourism to Nepal, and the Prime Minister intervened. Perhaps then tourism stopped being important, or looked like it could use a few months of curing, like a fine cheese. So Sleeping Beauty fell back into her slumber, and those khadi-clads who remained awake decided to turn their hand at muddying the industry waters for sport.

So what have we Not Yet Learnt from this hotel-labour-service-charge imbrolgio? That negotiations are important and mature ways of resolving problems. That opportunities should be grasped, with both hands, while they exist. That the next such "situation" could be foreseen well in advance, so it needn't have to come to this.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)