A negotiation skills master class from Her Majesty the Queen

John French


Read about the clever negotiation skills Queen Elizabeth ll has used during the recent Sussex scandal

Article overview

  • Against incredible odds, Her Majesty the Queen masterfully negotiated a quick settlement to give the Duke and Duchess of Sussex their ‘freedom’ while still safeguarding and protecting the institution of monarchy.
  • The difficult situation and potentially explosive scandal threatened to destroy royal relationships as well as the Royal Family’s reputation.
  • Communication Guru John French explores the effective negotiating techniques employed by the Queen and explains why they were so successful.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle rock the House of Windsor

The recent Sussex scandal that has rocked the House of Windsor had the potential to blow the royal house apart. Coming on the back of the Prince Andrew sex scandal investigations, the Sussex situation was another precariously dangerous balancing act for the Queen and her extended family who live and survive due to a fragile co-dependent relationship with the British public.

The Queen is undoubtedly the most experienced public figure in the world. Her Majesty learnt so much from her father King George Vl during the long hard years of World War ll. She has subsequently ruled and consulted with 14 British Prime Ministers and managed the associated political shenanigans during her very long and successful reign.

The Queen has also learnt some very hard media lessons from the public frenzy surrounding Princess Diana’s untimely death where she misjudged the public mood and the need to respect public sentiment.

During this latest Sussex drama, Her Majesty cut through all the clouds of hype, disappointment and chaos and she brought the Sussex ‘professional divorce’ to a quick and skilful close with a speedy resolution and statement.

It could all have gone so wrong so quickly. The Sussex scandal and the powerful internal rifts within the Royal Family threatened to do untold damage to the reputation of the monarchy and its survival in 21st century Britain.

The sovereign needed to act smartly and decisively to protect the Royal institution, and in doing so she delivered a consummate communication master class in the art of negotiation and conflict resolution.

Negotiation lessons from Her Majesty

As a communication specialist, I have taught negotiation skills and conflict resolution for the last 24 years. I easily admit that I am beyond impressed by how Her Majesty has navigated the monarchy through this latest crisis.

The Queen’s successful negotiation strategies can provide business professionals with some very powerful lessons and guidance about how to successfully contain conflict and achieve a smooth and timely resolution in a negotiation process.

These are the important negotiation lessons Her Majesty has taught us:

  1. Remain calm in the face of high drama and a crisis

    Unchecked emotion is the greatest fueller of conflict, stress and polarisation in a negotiation scenario. It usually leads to a negotiation breakdown and a polarisation in the fragile relationship between the various conflicting parties.

    Her Majesty is known and respected for embodying the resolute stoicism of monarchy and she does not succumb to the dangerous traps of the ego.

    During this conflict, Her Majesty also chose to soften the tense situation with a wonderful and admirable display of empathy and affection. It was with the warmth and care of a loving grandmother that she quelled the raging family flames and brought the fractured parties close enough to reach a resolution.
  1. Do not take sides

    Polarisation and conflict usually lead to relationship breakdowns and negotiation deadlocks. This is what every negotiator needs to try and avoid.

    As the ultimate decision-making power, Her Majesty was wise to choose the road of soft negotiation where both sides have their needs heard and most ardent desires accommodated. Her Majesty’s obligation was to firstly protect the monarchy, and secondly, to try and find a way for her grandson to find happiness and future well-being.

    It was with a master stroke that the queen managed to make this difficult situation work. What made this peaceful outcome possible was to find a balance between protecting the institution of monarchy while accommodating the needs and wishes of the abdicating party.

    A typical ‘win-win’ outcome is really about trying to achieve a balanced resolution that accommodates both sides. Finding a balance makes the negotiation outcome workable and sustainable in the long term. It appears that the Queen has achieved this important balance.
  1. Acknowledge the needs of each party

    In order to facilitate a healthy negotiation dialogue, it is essential that both parties feel that they are being heard and understood. Negotiations turn toxic when this does not happen.

    It appears that the Queen went out of her way to hear and listen to Harry and Meghan’s pain points and their desire to secure a free lifestyle. At the same time, the queen would have very clearly outlined and explained her own duty and her constraints as well as her fears about protecting the reputation and future of the British monarchy.

    It is only when negotiating parties agree to hear and accommodate each other that a sustainable compromise resolution can be achieved. This appears to have been successfully achieved.
  1. Set healthy boundaries

    Any healthy relationship is governed by healthy boundaries which ensures the protection of each party’s interests.

    Harry and Meghan had asserted a very clear boundary by stating they wanted to break away from the Royal Family and start an independent life. The Queen, as head of the monarchy, was forced to take up a composite negotiation position to delineate what she could grant and what values she needed to safeguard to minimise future potential risks to the reputation of the monarchy.

    Her Majesty has learnt over her long reign about the risks of media leaks. Cheap inappropriate commercial ventures and nefarious business associations have dragged the Royal Family down at times. In this negotiation, the Queen needed to safeguard the monarchy against the dangers of the future Sussex commercial bandwagon.
  1. Establish a time limit for resolution

    The Queen made it very clear from the outset that she wanted to resolve the future of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex ‘in days’. In expert negotiation style, the Queen knows that the longer negotiations drag on, the greater the risk is for the dynamics and parties to begin to unravel and reach an impasse.

    The Queen was also mindful of the two sad tales of other members of the Royal Family whose drawn-out circumstances backfired badly on the Royal institution itself.

    The first case was the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, whose marriage aspirations to her late father’s divorced equerry, Peter Townsend, were put on hold for two years until Margaret no longer required the Queen’s permission.

    The second sorry tale was Diana, Princess of Wales, who remained in the Royal fold for three long years while separated from Prince Charles before she was finally able to seek a divorce.

    In both cases, the Queen and her courtiers had let things drag on way too long in the vain hope of some sort of delusional happy ending. In both cases, this strategy merely prolonged the anguish for everyone involved.

    This time round, Her Majesty acted swiftly and asked for a speedy deadline driven strategy which diminished the capacity for side dramas to unfold and new flames to erupt.
  1. Choose your words and tone carefully and use positive phrases

    Your choice of words is critical during sensitive conversations and high stakes negotiations. The wrong choice of words or insensitive tone of message can fuel conflict, anger and resentment.

    The Queen cleverly neutralised family conflict and further resentment by choosing her words very carefully in her press statement. These are the following positive words and phrases she employed to calm the waters and encourage a more favourable response from her grandson and his wife. The Queen’s statement contained the following carefully crafted positive phrases:  “pleased” “constructive” “supportive” “will always be much loved members of my family” “I want to thank them” “am particularly proud of how Meghan” “allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life”.

    The Queen’s statement had a warm and deeply personal tone. Her statement contained three ‘I’s’ and three ‘my’s’ in its five paragraphs.  She made it clear that not only was she thinking and acting with the crown on her head, but she was also wearing the mantle of a loving and understanding grandmother – a very difficult balancing act.

    The Queen also strategically highlighted her pride in the 38-year-old Duchess of Sussex. This move cleverly kept Meghan in the warm embrace of the Windsor family. The Queen deliberately did this to try and discourage the Duke and Duchess from doing a disastrous tell-all interview on American TV.
  1. Keep the media informed with timeous responses

    The only way to keep the media off one’s back is to work with them and help them to do their jobs. If one does not work with the media one soon creates and antagonistic dynamic.

    Harry and Meghan made this media mistake all too often by refusing to release early baby photos of Archie; by refusing to reveal who the godparents were, and by Meghan refusing to have photos taken of her at Wimbledon. High profile public figures simply cannot behave like this and they initiate the antagonism of a frustrated press.

    The Queen, on the other hand, sent out very timeous statements as soon as matters were resolved and agreements had been reached.

    Timeous media statements also have the fantastic benefit of limiting mass speculation and curtail the endless fake news spreading.
  1. Draw a line in the sand

    In the negotiation process, a pivotal starting point is to define what one’s non-negotiables are.

    The Queen and her courtiers were very clear about their non-negotiables. Their line in the sand triumphed. The message was clear: you’re either a working member of the Royal Family or you need to step back completely – there’s no in-between.

    Alistair Bruce, the well-known royal commentator told Sky News: “I think the queen has dealt with this crisis because she has absolutely drawn the line: you can be private people, but you cannot be royal at the same time. There’s no halfway house.”

  2. Step into your power and negotiate from a position of strength

    The 93 year old monarch made it very clear to the world that she’s still very much in control of the monarchy. The Queen swiftly took control of the crisis and stepped into her power.

    In an era where Millennials like Meghan Markle do not respect their own parents, let alone figures of authority, nor traditional institutions like the monarchy, the queen needed to assert her power as the ultimate decision making authority.

    The Queen concluded her statement by stating she was pleased they had found a constructive way to move forward.

    Seasoned Royal expert Penny Junor remarked that the new arrangement was ‘the best possible outcome and an outcome which will actually avoid catastrophe’. 
  1. Create a balanced solution that is sustainable and creates a win-win scenario

    A negotiation outcome is only sustainable if it works for both parties in the long term. This can only happen if the needs and desires of both parties are accommodated and a balanced agreement is achieved where the needs and considerations of both parties are met.

    This is what the ‘win-win’ concept is all about – it is about achieving a balance between the different standpoints of both parties. It is about finding the middle ground which provides the golden zone for a successful negotiation breakthrough.

    The Queen’s statement and the resultant positive response statement from the Sussexes demonstrated that in principle both sides had agreed on a constructive way forward. Both parties needed to give and sacrifice a little in order to achieve their general negotiation goals. This appears to have happened. 


At the very advanced age of 93, the Queen is still a true master at negotiation. Her negotiation prowess and vast experience has been immensely helpful at this critical moment in Royal history.

By utilising the various successful negotiation strategies mentioned above, Her Majesty was able to swiftly and successfully create a constructive win-win agreement with the Sussexes, allowing them their ‘freedom’ while still protecting the monarchy from the dangers of blatant commercialism.

And in doing so, Harry’s clever grandmother has also perhaps left the door open just wide enough that if it all goes wrong, the Prodigal Prince may be able to re-join the Firm.

Contact John French at Communication Guru for more information on our customised negotiation skills master classes – john@johnfrench.co.za

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