“I don’t think there’s a Republican alive who could stop what’s gonna happen,” Rush Limbaugh said Monday. “We don’t have the leverage. The power isn’t there!” (More)

Getting to Yes Again, Part II: Power and Dirty Tricks

This week Morning Feature looks at the classic Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Yesterday we looked at the problem of positional bargaining and the method of principled negotiation. Today we consider the most common objections to principled negotiation. Tomorrow we’ll review the budget negotiations through the lens of principled negotiation.

As we saw yesterday, principled negotiation seeks a wise, efficient agreement that does not harm the parties’ relationship by separating the people from the problem, looking at interests rather than positions, inventing options for mutual gain, and seeking objective criteria to evaluate the options. That sounds great in theory, but negotiations don’t happen in theory. They happen in Realworldia, where the other side may not know how to or may choose not to negotiate well. The authors of Getting to Yes have heard those objections, and they discuss how to be a principled negotiator … even when the other side isn’t.

What if they are more powerful? Develop your BATNA.

Limbaugh’s statement in the introduction revealed an insight into how Republicans view negotiations. He went on to add:

Now, we can sit here and play games all day long and talk about negotiating with Obama on the cliff. But at the end of the day, when we have nothing in common with the Democrats, I mean, literally, folks, there’s nothing that we want that they want, and vice versa. They don’t want any spending restraints anywhere. The entitlement programs, government spending is the source of their power, literal power, winning elections. That’s where it comes from. They’re not gonna give that away, just like they’re not gonna give us any of the Hispanic vote willingly, and they’re not gonna give us any of the under 30 single women vote willingly. There’s no way to negotiate for this.

While I disagree with his description of what Democrats want and why, when someone believes there are no shared interests in a negotiation then the process often does come down to who has more power. They have enough votes to block your proposal. She’s the boss. He has more money. Power matters in a negotiation, but votes, seniority, or money are not the only sources of negotiating power. In fact, depending on the situation, they may not matter at all.

What matters more is your BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – the best outcome you can achieve if you and the other party cannot agree. The better your BATNA, the less you need a negotiated agreement to achieve a satisfactory outcome. For example:

  • If you like where you live, can afford your mortgage, and you’re not strapped for cash, your BATNA is not to sell at all and keep living there. You can demand an above-market price for your home from any interested buyer.
  • But what if you have to move to another state, can’t afford two homes, and there’s only one interested buyer for your current home? Now you have a very weak BATNA, and you may have to accept a below-market price for your home.

Note that a BATNA is not a “bottom line,” the least you will settle for in an agreement. A BATNA is your best alternative if you reach no agreement. Working out your BATNA is a key step in preparing for any negotiation. Without a BATNA, you are flying blind. You don’t know whether you need an agreement, or how to weigh an offer. Brainstorm alternatives to an agreement in the same way you would brainstorm options for an agreement. Then pick the best alternatives and develop them into viable options.

The best viable option becomes your BATNA, and your benchmark during negotiations: “Is this offer better than my BATNA?” While you needn’t accept the first offer better than your BATNA, you should decline any offer worse than your BATNA. You should also try to estimate the other party’s BATNA, and you may even ask them outright: “What are your plans if we can’t agree?” Of course they’ll ask you the same question … so don’t open that door unless your BATNA is strong enough to improve your negotiating position.

What is the Republicans’ budget BATNA?

Former Bush economic advisor Steve Hennessey wrote about this on Tuesday, referring to the BATNA as Option C:

I think option C is S. 3412, a bill passed by the Senate in July. The short description is that this bill “extends the middle class tax relief for one year and allows tax cuts for the rich to expire.”

Hennessey emphasizing that while he opposes the bill – he helped to craft the Bush tax cuts and thinks they should be made permanent – it is only a one-year deal, does not include the extension of unemployment insurance or other stimulus programs President Obama is seeking now, and does not include provision for raising the debt ceiling “which if enacted now would deny Republicans a tool to demand future spending cuts.” (More on that tomorrow.)

If Speaker Boehner can’t get a better deal than that, Hennessey says, then House Republicans should pass S. 3412, dare President Obama to veto it, and “[tee] the fight up again a year from now when the political and legislative dynamics may be different.” If Speaker Boehner takes Hennessey’s advice and adopts S. 3412 as his BATNA, that becomes the best possible deal President Obama can negotiate …

… unless President Obama and Speaker Boehner agree that another proposal – perhaps one that extends unemployment insurance benefits and/or adds some of the other stimulus President Obama wants, in exchange for spending cuts elsewhere – is a better deal for both parties.

What if they won’t play? Use negotiation ju-jitsu.

Not everyone knows how to or will choose to use principled negotiation. What do you do if the other party starts positional bargaining? Apply a basic principle of ju-jitsu: Don’t counter push for push. Instead, pull them into principled negotiation.

If the other party declares a set of positions – “We want A, B, and C, and that’s our final offer!” – don’t attack their positions. Instead look for the interests behind those positions: “I understand your offer as A, B, and C, and why do you want those terms?”

If the other party attacks your ideas – “That’s a ridiculous proposal!” – don’t defend them. Instead invite criticism and advice: “This was our first draft, and of course we want your input. How can we work together to improve the agreement?”

If the other party attacks you personally – “You’re talking nonsense!” – don’t defend your person. Instead, recast it as an attack on the problem: “I can tell you’re upset with these options and I’d like to work with you to improve them.”

Note the highlighted word and in each case. In negotiations, but is “the verbal eraser.” It wipes out what came before. By framing your response with and, you show respect while still steering the conversation away from positional bargaining and toward principled negotiation.

What if they use dirty tricks? Taming the hard bargainer.

Sometimes the other party will play dirty. They show up late for the meeting to make you wait. You show up for an meeting and find the only empty chair faces the window and the glaring sun. They stand up, yell, and pound on the table. Just as you thought you were nearing agreement, they spring a new demand. How do you respond?

By negotiating the rules of that negotiation, using principled negotiation:

  • Separate the people from the problem: “I’m sure you were delayed for a reason. Is there a more reliable time to schedule our meetings?”
  • Focus on interests, not positions: “I’d like us both to be comfortable. Do you mind if I move my chair around beside yours, so we can both see each other?”
  • Invent options for mutual gain: “I need to blow off steam too sometimes. Maybe we should schedule a Yelling Time and take turns. Then we can settle down to work again.”
  • Insist on objective criteria: “I see you have more interests to explore. So let’s agree that no part of the agreement is settled until the entire agreement is settled.” Note the tacit warning: if the other party raises new demands, everything else goes back on the table.

The authors include a laundry list of dirty negotiating tricks: phony facts, ambiguous authority, dubious intentions, stressful situations, personal attacks, good-guy-bad-guy, threats, refusal to negotiate, extreme demands, escalating demands, lock-in tactics, the ‘hardhearted partner,’ calculated delays, and “Take it or leave it.”

The authors note that often simply recognizing a dirty trick – in the form of negotiating rules for the negotiation – will stop it. But if not, don’t be a victim. Yield to principle, not to pressure.

Tomorrow we’ll conclude with a more detailed look at the budget negotiations, including whether and how you can apply principled negotiation if the other party’s interests are grounded in pure fantasy.


Happy Friday!