Over the last few months I, like many Americans, have become frustrated by the state of our political landscape. As business people, we have to work day in and day out with colleagues that have different agendas, goals and objectives – many times competing with our own. Yet somehow we manage to negotiate through without constant threat of shutting down the factory.

Not so with our pols. These fellas (and it is men that are the problem) can’t seem to negotiate themselves out of a timeshare presentation, let alone work together to find solutions to our problems. Our President seems the most prone at making basic negotiation mistakes, often taking a starting position that is overly aggressive or extremely passive. 

On the aggressive side, Obama nearly started World War III after stating that use of chemical weapons would be a “redline” in the Syria conflict. While the comments seemed to make perfect sense at the time, the President didn’t realize that backing off that line would be a political impossibility for him. If chemical weapons were used, the country had to go to war. 

In reality there were plenty of other options, and eventually we fell into one. The President should have realized that before announcing such an aggressive policy, he would need to enlist both international and domestic support for taking action. He also should have realized that other negotiation tactics could be used, and work with countries like Russia to help us negotiate another way out. He could have also left it to Congress to decide how to handle the situation, or at least bring them into the conversation. He did none of these things and his lack of foresight and blustered posturing led him right to the brink of a scenario that very few people, save crazy old John McCain, were interested in.

On the flip side, Obama was willing to negotiate on the debt ceiling in 2011. In this case, Obama shouldn’t have even come to the negotiation table – the debt ceiling is based on money we already spent and Congress already approved to pay out. Not paying it is like missing your mortgage payment, except it affects the credit rating of the whole country. His willingness to negotiate gave Republicans an incredible advantage, and led to severe government cuts that Democrats would have typically never agreed to, no increases in revenue, and  ultimately the sequester which no one, save the Tea Party, likes.

These two examples show polar opposite negotiation tactics, used at the polar opposite wrong times! In any negotiation, you have to know where your leverage is and you have to know your end game. It seems Obama has learned his lesson in the latest debt fight, where Republicans wanted to repeal Obamacare in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. Obama simply didn’t show up at the negotiation table. He had nothing to gain from a negotiation, and he had the leverage to force the Republican’s hand. It’s nice to see he learned from his mistakes. Still, it would have been nicer to see it three years ago.

Next up – lessons in negotiation from American Pickers!
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Joe Payne

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