Negotiation Lessons: Why Mexico’s President cancelled meeting US President?

You might have already read and/or watched the news about Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto canceling meeting with US President Donald J. Trump.

If you had followed the events leading to the cancelation, you weren’t surprised at all.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to build the wall in the southern border of the US believing that Mexico will pay the cost in one form or another.

This decision was unilateral and was made without the consent of Mexico’s government.  The Executive Order offended Mexico’s delegate who are here in the US to have some form of negotiation with Trump’s administration. Following the signature, the high level delegates called their President to cancel the scheduled meeting with the President of the US.

While this was still going on, on Thursday, Trump tweeted saying: “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” It didn’t take long for Mexico’s President to just do that- he cancelled the planned meeting, following Trump’s lead, via twitter: “This morning we have informed the White House that I will not attend the meeting scheduled for next Tuesday with the POTUS”.

Why he canceled the meeting, you may ask, especially knowing that Mexico is going to lose the most? According to Trump’s earlier tweet, “The US has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico.”

It is simple. In any negotiation, if your counterpart gives you an ultimatum with his/her walking away price upfront (in this case, Trump revealed that he walks away if Mexico doesn’t agree to pay for the wall), you immediately realize your best and worst scenarios. And, if you figure out that you won’t get a satisfactory agreement from a negotiation and some how you could be able to live with the worst scenario, then, you too walk away. That is what Mexico’s President just did.

Of course, at this point, it’s too early to reach any conclusion. I hope that the two nations may keep working on a win-win deal, at least, behind the scene… I guess, they have already realized that negotiation of this magnitude doesn’t succeed on Twitter 🙂 lol

That being said, my interest here is to share some negotiation lessons with leaders like yourself:

1.    Don’t give ultimatum upfront. This is true even if you have the upper hand as you enter into any negotiation; of course, if your desire is a win-win deal. In the US – Mexico case, we aren’t sure whether Trump was making a tactical move to begin the negotiation on strong foundation and from higher ground or whether that was a misstep and oversight. Otherwise, you shouldn’t demand concessions before the start of a negotiation. You should wait for the right time to demand concessions, and if necessary to make some concessions.

2.    Don’t reveal the bottom-line too soon. This is especially important during negotiations between two nations. Negotiations in business are totally different than negotiations between nations, especially those from different cultures. In the former case, as far as the negotiators get a deal acceptable by the majority of the shareholders, they may be considered successful. Unfortunately, negotiations between nations are complex. There are countless stakeholders with diverse, sometimes irreconcilable, interests and priorities. Trump attempted to negotiate on twitter and revealed his bottom lines for all stakeholders to read too soon. Sensitive negotiations should be done behind closed doors, at least, at the initial stage. There should also be an agreement from both parties on how and when to communicate the progress of the negotiation to their respective stakeholders.

3.    Don’t undermine emotions. Negotiators should pay closer attention to their own and the emotions of others. How negotiators handle emotions could make or break a negotiation. This is especially important during negotiations between nations. His inner circle and thousands of citizens pressured Enrique (it didn’t matter whether he wanted to attend the meeting personally) because they felt that Trump’s tweets did hurt their national pride! According to news from Mexico, the President was forced to cancel the meeting because citizens felt that their country and its people are bullied and therefore, regardless of the economic consequences of walking away from the scheduled meeting, they demanded their President to cancel it.

4.    Don’t damage long-term relationships. Neighboring countries like the US and Mexico shouldn’t just negotiate to get a better financial deal. They need each other for other collaborations that are critical to their countries, people, and the region long after the current Presidents are gone. That doesn’t mean the current governments shouldn’t aim to get win-win deals for their respective countries but this shouldn’t be sought in the expense of permanently damaging their relationship. Win-lose negotiations always burn bridges and also injure healthy relationships.

Hope this helps!


Assegid (AZ) Habtewold is the owner of Success Pathways, LLC, and lead trainer and workshop facilitator. He provides soft skill workshops on themes such as Negotiation Skills, Conflict Resolution, Diversity and Inclusion, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Leading Change, and other leadership related topics. Here is the link to checkout the learning objectives of our Negotiation Skills workshop:

By the way, AZ has Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree, Master’s in Computer Science, and Doctor of Strategic Leadership. He wrote two books on leadership. He has been facilitating soft skill and leadership workshops including negotiation skills for some government agencies, technology, and non-profit organizations. In his upcoming book, which will be published soon, he discussed extensively about the importance of leaders honing their negotiation skills.

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