Comments: Making Hot Dogs

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Peter , Dillon Co     09/07/11
Reply to David Matz
David, you raise great questions and important points. Perhaps our little conversation will be of interest to others. I think you are right that the center of most negotiations is about uncertainty and risk and how the overall calculus of risks, rewards, costs and opportunities are approached by different people. The more parties and the more issues, the more potential formulations at play. Risks, rewards, costs and opportunities can be in different categories for different players: social, technical, economic, environmental, or legal. That is a lot of possible combinations. However, the more important piece for me is how different people approach their calculations in different ways. Some of this may be neurological, some of it cultural, and some of it interpersonal and tied to personality. Some of it may be ideology. Some of it may also be situational and what frame of mind someone is in on a given day. We all have good days and bad days. In the “Protean Negotiation” chapter in The Negotiator’s Field Book (Honeyman and Schneider, American Bar Association, 2006), I suggested that there are at least four different negotiation “dances”, dance being a synonym for a calculus as to how humans behave in the face of real or imagined conflict and how they negotiate. One presupposes that all of us are fundamentally competitive. A second assumes we are, at core, cooperative. A third takes for granted that all of us will seek to do what is morally correct. A fourth assumes we are rational and pragmatic. These four impulses—pursuing your own fair share, uniting with others to achieve a common end, insisting on doing what is right, and using logic and reasoning to solve practical problems—seem to have evolutionary roots that date back to our origins on the African savannah [see Doug Yarn & Trish Jones, Negotiation is in Our Bones]. Frankly, any of these can become “down and dirty.” Or more “elegant.” As a citizen, I didn’t like the outcome. As a negotiator, I didn’t like the process of the hot dog making but I also can understand it. Congress and Obama are all paying a price but the politics of the moment is so toxic and hate-filled we are likely to see it again.

david matz, Jamaica Plain ma     09/06/11
why we need hot dogs
As always, Peter does a good job. A few thoughts in response. Peter doesn't ask why we negotiate down and dirty, whether in public or not. A few thoughts thereon. First, the center of negotiation, any negotiation, is uncertainty. We don't know what the other side is willing to do, and we sometimes don't know what we are willing to do. The bigger the deal (the more players, the more issues), the more we don't know. And we don't know what will "work," that is, make the other side move. Moreover, we know that the other side doesn't know these things either. So it is a swamp of uncertainty. Second, we all want to do "well." This can reflect a dollar victory in relation to a batna. Or a comparison with some anchor. Or a sense of competitive triumph. Or a sense that the cost is worth the outcome. And there is often some uncertainty here too, since we may not be able to be too clear, up front or even later, about what "well" looks like. The opposite, and quite powerful, side of this coin is not wanting to look like or feel like a sucker. Third, a way to deal with the uncertainty (i.e. insecurity?) is incrementalism. Take tiny steps and watch what happens. Each step (and the pattern of them) does two things: it moves you toward your goal, though you may be not so sure what the precise goal is; and it sends a message, perhaps the one you want to send, perhaps not. This leaves you time to assess messages you receive and to contemplate your next move. i.e. it leaves you some self-control in a process that takes a chunk of that away. In short, negotiation meets the needs of a very common situation for both sides so that the rules, not the outcome, are pretty clear. Some rules, of course, are not clear: how much lying or cheating is allowed and what constitutes out-of-bounds coercion are occasionally defined by a particular culture, and there are sometimes laws that speak to this; but often the boundary rules are created (co-created?) as the process unfolds, indeed such rules can sometimes be properly said to be negotiated by both parties as they go along.It is, of course, perfectly normal for one side to declare a "foul" if that side believes the other side has violated one of these rules, but such a declaration is only another negotiating move attempting to use a cry of unfairness to counter the "foul." So, there is in my judgment nothing dirty about down and dirty negotiating, as there wasn't in the debt ceiling negotiations. There was a policy fight, and the bad guys were bad because of what they wanted not because of the way they went about getting it.