Last month, Meghan Markle, along with her husband Prince Harry, served the British royal family with the kind of surprise notice that lawyer Rachel Zane, her past character on the show Suits, would have served her opponents in the cold-blooded world of fictional New York City law firms. This stunning fait accompli prompted the need to negotiate directly with the Queen, a much more powerful party.
Swiftly after Meghan and Harry’s decision to step back as senior members of the royal family was announced, the Queen called an emergency meeting to resolve the crisis. However, Meghan kept herself removed from the encounter by staying in Canada throughout the fallout.
The question for students of negotiation and conflict resolution is: Was this a wise move?
In a recent article on negotiating from INC.com, the author is slightly critical of Meghan for not being present for the actual negotiations. However, I differ with this conclusion.
Personally, I think it was probably a wise move for Meghan remove herself from the situation for a number of reasons. First, although it is good to face conflict head on, it doesn’t always benefit us to meet face to face initially, especially when recently broken trust means the interaction could be highly volatile. Negative reactive emotions can and often times will overwhelm an entire meeting, so much so that we can’t have rational discussions or think of rational compromises.
Further, from a hard-line strategic standpoint, it’s usually better off if the ultimate decision maker is not physically present, instead as far away as possible. For example, no matter what came up during the negotiations, Harry could lean on having to “check with Meghan” to get her approval before making any final agreements. The fact that Meghan didn’t even phone in for a live conversation (originally the plan) was positive in the sense that it created time and space.
Now, outsiders looking in could easily see the Queen as the master dealmaker in this equation. Why is this so? First, she took a firm stance on not allowing the easy breezy half-in half-out status that Harry and Meghan reportedly wanted. Second, she crafted a flexible and creative transition period over the next year, where in the couple will spend half their time in England and half in Canada. Third, another savvy move, she set up a post one-year reappraisal opportunity for both parties to see if they want to reevaluate. Fourth, she downgraded their royal titles without fully and definitely removing their formal association. Finally, she cut off the royal purse strings and secured their agreement to pay back million of dollars spent renovating their home in England.
All of this said, if you look at the outcome intangibles, it’s hard to not see Meghan as her own true winner. First and foremost, Meghan got her freedom, which is truly priceless if she feels she’s in a toxic relationship with her royal in-laws or the British media. Second, she now has immense future financial opportunity that completely outweighs and obliterates any $3 million dollar pay back, or discontinuation of royal funds. For example, according to media reports, Meghan and Harry stand to gain up to $500,000 for speaking engagements, up to $15,000,000 for a memoir, and upwards of $50,000,000 for a potential mega deal with a company such as Netflix. Even if these numbers have been exaggerated, Meghan and Harry are going to be just fine, if not better, as they’ll not only generate more personal assets but have more control over these assets – and their lives.
So while we don’t know everything that happened or was agreed to, the future will tell whether this was truly the win-win negotiation it seemed to be. Importantly in a highly public dispute, Meghan and Harry can move forward after the negotiations without losing much face, as well as having avoided causing the Queen and wider royal family to lose much face of their own. (Even though there are rumors of more sinister reasons for MEXIT, none have yet been hinted at or legitimized by the Duchess of Sussex.)
It is for these reasons that I believe Meghan Markle did extremely well as a negotiator in a difficult situation. I might even go as far to say that Meghan negotiated better than any episode of Suits I’ve ever seen, because after enjoying all seven seasons I can’t remember one when they had to face a Queen.