Bruce Lear reflects on the president's negotiating style. -promoted by desmoinesdem
You don’t make lasting deals with 140 characters. The price is sometimes wrong, and definitions matter.
As a candidate for president, Donald Trump convinced enough voters that he was a master negotiator who always wins. Now, many Americans are left wondering if that keen negotiator should be on a milk carton as missing.
Oh, I know his true believers can blame the swamp, the steady state, fake news, or even Barack Obama. But an honest look might actually reveal Trump was a pretty good negotiator in his past business life, but he had his own definition of “deal” and of “winning.” He wasn’t lying when he said, “When I’m president, we’ll win so much, you’ll get bored with winning.” The problem was no one understood his definitions and no one knew the price.
For him, a “deal” means getting total capitulation from the other side, and “winning” is whatever allows him to look good during a news cycle. There is no recognition a deal is long-term or even clear in detail. It must be simple enough to explain in 140 characters, bring immediate satisfaction, and be spun one hundred percent as his. The price is often chaos because the objective is neither clear nor long term. His statement that if things don’t go well with North Korea, I’ll just walk away, is an illustration of his definition of “deal.”
This definition of “deal” and “winning” has caught the public and Congressional Democrats off guard. For example, after the now famous “Nancy and Chuck meeting,” both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer walked away thinking they had a deal on DACA. They didn’t. In that meeting, the two Democrats didn’t understand the Trump definition of “winning.”
They left the Oval Office and immediately went in front of the cameras to announce a deal. What they forgot, is Trump needed to be the one to claim victory and take 100 percent credit. They forgot his alt right friends would be the last people to whisper in his ear.
Once his definition of winning was breached, he resorted to the tactic he knew from his days in real-estate deal making. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing to get what I’m after.” He pushed by adding to the deal. It died.
Another example of not understanding his definitions is the omnibus spending bill. Why was there a last-minute veto threat? Why is the White House now trying to get a rescission? Again, the Trump definition of a “deal” was not honored.
The bill was 1,700 pages long and could only be described as a victory through compromise. It wasn’t a complete capitulation, and it sure wasn’t simple. As a result, the Trump team was left to explain why a deal they negotiated was now being lambasted by their own boss. The boss was left to list a bunch of Pentagon prizes contained in the bill.
So, what type of negotiation is Trump using? It’s called the “One and done deal,” and there is nothing wrong with it in the right context. Americans do this all of the time. A car deal is “One and done.” The buyer knows there is another car lot down the street. The seller knows, there are other buyers waiting, and so there is no real relationship to preserve or to enhance. The only goal is to get over on the other side, grab the best deal possible, and run.
That type of deal is far different from negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran that is lasting and meaningful, or negotiating a deal with rogue nations like North Korea, Iran or Syria. For these deals, aiming high and then forcing your will through pushing, could lead to the price being wrong. There isn’t another Iran, North Korea, Syria or even U.S. Congress waiting in the wings, so Trump will be forced to deal with each long term. These clearly are not car deal or real estate transactions.
One and done deal making in this context doesn’t work. So, what might work? Here are five negotiation strategies that produce success.
Find some common ground where the parties might agree. Even if it is tiny, it begins a rhythm toward agreement. In contract negotiations, this is called "log-rolling.” Once it starts, it might just roll to an overall agreement.
Avoid demonizing the other side. It’s tempting and it makes great chest thumping bar talk, but it doesn’t get a lasting deal. feeding the base puts a negotiator at risk of being bitten while feeding friends. If the press or social media is used to demonize the other side, the negotiator eventually has to make a deal with the devil or walk away. Either way is a loss.
Be transparent. It is tempting to try and hide facts that hurt the bargaining position, but if the other side believes lies have been told or facts have been concealed, it will haunt the bargain worse than any ghoul Wes Craven could conjure. There will be payback!
Be patient. Bargaining is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build a relationship while finding a mutually acceptable solution. It is not a quick fix, or something achieved just by pushing. Pushing has its place, but so does waiting. Interrogators have learned silence produces helpful information from the other side. It’s an old adage for a reason: “He who speaks first loses.” In other words, shut up and wait.
Know clearly what a deal looks like. Don’t offer surprises at the last minute. The worst possible thing is to waver based on what the last person said. There are always too many experts. Add-ins may work in the world of real estate, but it doesn’t work when there is a long-term relationship at stake. The other side will take a cue from you and also add or simply walk away.
So, unsolicited advice from an old negotiator is: forget the blustering tweets and focus on the outcome, but only when the price is right.
Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and recently retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for 27 years for the Iowa State Education Association.