BPCC members had the chance to listen to, and discuss with, Cathy Ashton (Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, GCMG, PC), a member of the House of Lords. She had previously served as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (in effect the EU’s top diplomat) and First Vice-President of the European Commission in the Barroso Commission from 2009 to 2014.

The lunchtime off-the-record meeting at Warsaw’s Hotel Mamaison Le Regina focused on international diplomacy – preventing and resolving conflicts – and conveyed many practical tips that transfer directly into the world of business negotiations. These included discovering the human being that is the other party, and knowing that the carrot is always more useful than the stick.

She stressed the importance of aiming for win-win in negotiations, and getting under the skin of the other side to appreciate how they (and their electorate) would feel about the final outcome of the deal. Lady Ashton also talked about how crucial business is in providing the stable economic underpinning that any country requires so that its citizens feel financially secure.

After a welcome by Aneta Jóźwicka, BPCC chairwoman, and an introduction from Dr Małgorzata Bonikowska from the Centre for International Relations Think Tank, Lady Ashton shared insights from her career in EU politics during dramatic and turbulent times. Having played a crucial role in such crises as Libya, Serbia and Kosovo, the Iran nuclear deal and the Kyiv Maidan, Baroness Ashton proved herself repeatedly to be a brilliantly effective diplomat and negotiator.

There was plenty of time for members to engage in discussion with Lady Ashton on a range of topical subjects related to international affairs and the art of negotiation in business.

Diplomacy doesn’t tend to play out well in media headlines – it is a slow process that takes place behind closed doors. BPCC members heard about the subtle and painstaking machinery of the diplomatic world, and the skill-sets required to persuade, across cultures, around the world.

Cathy Ashton’s book, And Then What?: Inside Stories of 21st-Century Diplomacy, published last month, is available on Amazon.