3 Tips After Watching the Federal Budget Deals

Posted By on August 3rd

For weeks, we have been subjected to the negotiations between Congressional leaders and President Obama over the debt ceiling and federal budget. It was a roller coaster ride with a lot of tense words and finger pointing. And in the end (which is not really the end), do we have anything to show for it?

These budget/debt ceiling negotiations (hereafter called “The Negotiations”) give a lot of insight into what can go wrong in negotiations. Here are 3 negotiation tips you can apply in your own life to avoid the mistakes of our elected officials:

1. Have the right decision makers at the table

All sides have to want to resolve the issue, and the people who are authorized to make the decisions need to be at the negotiations. I believe that one problem with The Negotiations is that the American people are the ones most affected by the final agreement, and we weren’t represented at the table. The people who are supposed to be representing our interests weren’t doing that. They didn’t even care enough to educate, inform, and bring together the American public. They were more concerned about their political careers, their narrow-interest financial supporters, and their pledges to small interest groups. It doesn’t appear they are interested in resolving the real issues.

2. Appreciate the consequences if you walk away

A strategy mediators use is to ask the parties to consider the consequences if the issue is not resolved. The hope is that they will give it some thought and decide the consequences are too great to not resolve the issue. If the consequences are not great, it’s easier to walk away.

In The Negotiations, some of the negotiators apparently felt they could walk away even though the majority of the American public felt the consequences were too great to do so. In a true negotiation, the negotiators would be concerned about the needs and interests of all sides to determine how best to accommodate them. They would be willing to move away from their “position statements”. The negotiators seemed to be ignoring the needs and interests of the American public. They didn’t assess their risks realistically.

Unfortunately, if the negotiators walked away from The Negotiations, there was no court, or other decision making authority, to impose a decision. However, negotiators have to remember negotiations don’t exist in a vacuum – they may have to negotiate with the same people again and again on other issues.

3. Have a neutral party mediating

A neutral mediator can listen to each side, suggest ways of finding common ground, and help broker an agreement that satisfies all parties. A mediator focuses on keeping the parties talking, which is a critical piece to achieve a successful negotiation. Mediators know that many negotiating parties believe fully that the best deal doesn’t come until the final hour, and they are not willing to complete an agreement until then. Mediators also know that many breakthroughs happen when it seems all hope is lost.

It’s doubtful that the Supreme Court (or any other authority) could impose a mediation requirement on the negotiators; however, a mediator could help them move beyond position statements, consider the needs and interests of the true parties (the American people), and explore true long-term settlement options.

About the author

Keith Grossman helps individuals and businesses negotiate and manage conflict more comfortably. Keith is a Collaborative Attorney, a Family and Circuit Civil mediator certified by the Supreme Court of Florida, an Arbitrator qualified by the Florida Supreme Court, and an educator. Keith frequently lectures and facilitates training programs, works with individuals one-on-one, and writes articles on conflict management and negotiation topics. His e-workbooks, “What Is A Peace Chest?” and “How Do You Build A Peace Chest?“ are now available on Kindle.


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