I recently appeared on Fox Business with Neil Cavuto to discuss the souring relationship between the White House and the Republican congressional leadership and its potential impact on their future negotiations. Since this raises critical negotiation issues, I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on it.
Overall, the crux of the interview revolved around the extent that your negotiation strategy should change based on whether and to what extent you want or expect to have a future relationship with your counterpart. Cavuto’s point was that the White House should stop bashing the Republican leaders if it wants to get a tax cut deal from them in the future – especially if the Republicans take over the House and/or Senate.
In traditional business negotiations, Cavuto is right. The more your potential interests and long-term goals will be maximized with a future relationship, the more likely you should employ problem-solving strategies in your negotiation. This would include taking steps like openly sharing information, de-emphasizing leverage, focusing on fair objective criteria and mutually considering the offer-concession process and agenda.
This also involves – as Cavuto emphasized – not publicly criticizing your counterparts. Doing so will not only harm the relationship but it will also lower the likelihood you’ll get a deal done.
In political negotiations, however, the dynamic is different because politicians, especially in an election year, focus much of their energies on their relationship with their various constituencies and voters. Here, both the President and Republican leadership have different constituencies. As a result, they often engage in a lot of public give and take as they vie to motivate their political bases to re-elect them and their colleagues.
They do this to create public support for their positions which, if successful, strengthens their leverage in their negotiations with each other and helps them control the negotiation agenda. Since this is a fairly common political tactic, they also expect their counterparts will engage in similar public posturing.
Traditionally, however, once the rubber hits the road and they face a deal or no deal, they typically go behind closed doors, negotiate the details, and largely discount the campaign season’s political rhetoric as simply that – political rhetoric. This is often necessary to get a deal done which is in their self-interest regardless of what they say about each other in public.
Of course, if a real personality conflict does arise and the parties go over the line in their personal attacks, it could prevent them from focusing on their and the country’s self-interest when and if they get behind closed doors. While I don’t think that is the case here (at least not yet), I could be wrong. If so, we might be headed for serious deadlocked negotiations in the future.