Some deals have the power to change the world. Literally. Be it the 1945 Quincy Agreement or one of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreements, they reshape countries, their political position, access to resources, and deeply impact its people for generations to come.

This is the case with the barely known yet world-changing Sykes-Picot deal, which reached its 100th-anniversary last month. So, if you weren’t around in 1916 to witness it, let’s see what it can teach us today about negotiation and the impact of our deals.

Right in the middle of a raging conflict of WW1, a young British politician, Sir Mark Sykes and the French lawyer-turned-diplomat, Francois Georges-Picot, negotiated the terms of a secret agreement with far-reaching consequences. The agreement laid the foundation for what became the arbitrary new borders drawn across the Middle East. Borders that literally divvied up French and English access to a wealth of resources in the region… and countless communities and families.

We’re not here for a history lesson per se, but the full story is highly insightful for those interested in politics, the genesis and the full impact of this agreement. If you’re curious, watch an outstanding documentary here and/or read “A Line in the Sand” by James Barr.

Interestingly, 100 years on, ISIS organization refers to this deal in many of its posts and appears to be determined to oppose and potentially reverse this deal. Why?

A deal where Trust is absent will fail to stick or be fully implemented

The Sykes-Picot deal is still a strong symbol of self-serving interests and authoritarian colonial behaviours. Trust was totally absent in this deal, with France and UK not hesitating to quietly negotiate parallel counter deals with third parties that were in total contradiction to the main deal to “hedge their bets”.

The frustration that this deal has created (and keeps creating in the Middle East 100 years on) is a brilliant lesson of what not to do: agreeing on a deal, the implementation of which requires the involvement of parties who do not support the deal. In this case, the local population.

The deal was also morally flawed.

Although the deal was officially about dealing with dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire, none of the parties revealed their true agenda: to get access to oil. (Read more on this in the Foreign Affairs article“Pipelines in the Sand”) And now this is exactly what ISIS is leveraging, to get traction on its ideological and religious pursuits.

Disclosure: the final twist that damaged the negotiators and their nations’ credibility 

When the Bolshevik communists overthrew the Russian Tsar in1917, Lenin managed to get his hands on the Sykes-Picot agreement. Trotsky, who had a vested interest in exposing “the great powers” of the West in monopolizing over the resources of the former Ottoman Empire, blew the whistle. Lenin exposed and publicized the secret treaty as “the agreement of the colonial thieves”, which caused a political scandal for Britain and France. So, what can we learn from the Sykes-Picot deal?

  • Build trust with your counterpart(s) and gain buy-in from all stakeholders to guarantee a deal implementation
  • Disclose your real agenda/intention and ensure that the deal reflects your core values, mission and interests
  • Act “as if all your deals were public” to ensure you’re acting with integrity and protecting your personal and brand credibility
  • Consider the wider impact/ripple effect of all your decisions at the negotiation table
  • How will you build Trust with your counterpart(s) in your current deal/negotiation?
  • If your “secret” agreement was to backfire and leak into the public domain, how would it impact you and your business, in terms of credibility and hard cost?
  • What is the wider impact of your deal on all your stakeholders, not just your shareholders?

Be strategic. Know your options. Book a FREE confidential 1:1 session with The Trusted Negotiator.

"Imagine a world where the men in business not only come home with more value in the deal, but with a new sense of trust and respect as a society?"

Fabian Courtaux, Trusted Negotiator