Negotiation Skills

I had a friend in law school who had a five year old daughter.  When Gail was taking Mediation and Negotiation, she said it as the easiest class she ever took, because she got nightly practice with her child, sharpening and honing the skills in her own little real-life lab.  Now that I am a parent, with two boys, 12 and 9, I understand this much better than I ever did at the time.  Having kids sharpens your negotiation and mediation skills to a fine art.

In an odd way, this is one of the reasons I think Hillary Clinton might make a great president.  She’s a lawyer and a mother, so she knows how to bargain and get things done.  I sort of wish she had had at least two children-  more kids raises the stakes in the balancing of needs test parents do between kids.  And lord knows when it comes to foreign affairs, balancing wants and needs is critical.   I know that the tri-partate talks we have here to solve the lost remote control crisis would make me perfect for solving the arab-palestinian problem single handed.

That aside, I am always fascinated on how negotiations start out pleasant, but after a while, people just need to take off the gloves and say the underlying truth of the matter, to solve the problem. The manners I wrote about yesterday are important, respect and honoring each other is important, but ultimately, it should be about solving the problem at hand, not about feeding the egos of the participants.

In parenting, you are often forced into a situation where you just need to tell kids the truth.  “I am sorry that you are upset over the loss of the remote control.  however, after watching two hours of uninterrupted brain candy, your father rightly is exerting his authority and position in the house to watch whatever he wants- please go read a book or find some other source of amusement.”  Acknowledge feelings, tell them, “tough luck” and give them directions on how to move on.

This kind of honesty would be refreshing in foreign affairs.  I just heard a story on NPR about how foreign investment and profits from the high price of oil in putting lots of money in the hands of countries that are not always the biggest fans of the US.  That whenever they wanted to, they could mess with our economy- what stops them is that the economy of the US is tied to global economic health, and tanking our economy for fun would also hurt them.  Mutually assured destruction.

But what’s stopping us from taking off the gloves and trying a fresh approach, like going to Arab states and Russia and saying “You are in great economic shape, we are in the tanker right now.  We are pouring money into Iraq with only moderate signs of progress.  Coincidentally, this country is a neighbor of yours, and any political unrest is closer to your neighborhood than ours.  Is there any way we can work together to fix this problem, as good neighbors and world citizens?  If we fix it, everybody wins; if we let it go, everybody loses.   We aren’t in a position to do this indefinitely.  We have decided it’s time to withdraw and let other countries become the heros.  How about you?”

The point of this essay is this- everyone- families, communities, countries- we’re all interconnected.  We need to let everyone have a chance to succeed, let everyone have a chance to share and grow.  And we need to start looking at everything as a global responsibility, and not be solely concerned with ourselves.  Once we look at the human population as one giant community, with responsibilities that span not only our homes, towns, states and countries, but globally- then we will start to have an inkling of how to best move forward.

We have to start looking at every negotiation as not what makes us happy or the big winners, but how everyone wins in the end.  When everyone wins, no one is diminished or feels less, and then we can form the global community we want and need.  If we could harness the power of cooperation, acknowledge competition drives us, but no one wins in the end if someone has to lose- then we would be in a truly better world.

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