Filmmaker and Phoenix native Steven Spielberg was 13 when, as he tells it, a “local bully gave me nothing but grief all year long. He would knock me down on the grass, or hold my head in the drinking fountain, or push my face in the dirt and give me bloody noses when we had to play football in phys. ed.”
What did Spielberg do? He asked the bully to play a war hero in a film he was making about fighting the Nazis. While the bully initially laughed at this idea, he later agreed and became the squad leader in the film.
The bully, a John Wayne look-alike, then became his best friend.
Spielberg recognized the bully beat up others to feel important. So he offered him an alternative path to recognition – being a film war hero.
I recalled this story when I heard about the bullying tactics reportedly used by State Senate President Brenda Burns’ office last week in attempting to force a vote on their budget proposal.
According to news reports, Burns’ office had a Senate door chained shut, had the House-Senate tunnel door locked and told a DPS officer to block the Senate parking lot exit.
I suspect Burns’ bullying tactics proved counterproductive. Why? William Ury in his book Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way From Confrontation to Cooperation, recognized Burns’ motivation when he wrote that “frustrated by the other side’s resistance, you may be tempted to push – to cajole, to insist and to apply pressure.”
According to Ury, this makes it worse, not better. “Pushing may actually make it more difficult for the other side to agree. It underscores the fact that the proposal is your idea, not theirs. It fails to address their unmet interests. It makes it harder for them to go along without appearing to be giving in to your pressure. And it makes the prospect of agreement seem, if anything, more overwhelming.”
So what does Ury suggest?
Don’t try to impose your ideas. Instead, involve your counterparts in devising a solution so that it becomes partially their idea, not just yours.
Satisfy some of their unmet interests.
Help them save face. Make the negotiation process easier, not harder.
Burns and her colleagues did largely the opposite. The budget negotiations excluded everyone but the Republican leadership and the Governor’s office. So the rest of the legislators, many of whose votes are needed to pass the budget, felt frozen out.
The result? They couldn’t provide direct input. They had no confidence in the budget numbers eventually presented. Few, if any, of their interests were presented, much less adopted. To top it off, they felt slapped in the face. No respect.
This is not to suggest that the leadership and the Governor’s office should have invited everyone in and adopted all their proposals. That would not have satisfied their fundamental interests. But involvement in the decision-making process has an independent value regardless of whose substantive ideas get adopted. The fairness and the perceived fairness of the process matters.
Sometimes it takes longer, but it’s almost always worth it. Participants view things differently when they’re involved. Often they’ll even make concessions they might not otherwise make and become comfortable with ideas they might otherwise reject.
Asking and involving vs. telling and trying to impose is an effective negotiation technique. Remember the Chinese proverb: “Tell me, I may listen. Teach me, I may remember. Involve me, I will do it.”
Sometimes you have to divide a fixed pie and not everyone will be fully sated. The size of your piece makes a difference, and we all generally want a bigger piece. But the process of dividing the pie also makes a difference.
Our legislative leadership should remember this. Otherwise, they may have to give up a bigger piece of pie to get an agreement.
Published April 9, 1999 The Business Journal