Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin was an intriguing read. When negotiating, I model at the very end of the analytical side of the rational – intuitive spectrum. I have the gift (or possibly curse) of being able to either suppress my emotions in an argument and think logically or step away with my emotions concealed to negotiate at a later time when my thoughts have settled. Due to the fundamental attribution error, I have always viewed my analytical style of negotiating as superior to an emotional negotiator. Therefore, this week’s reading was an interesting look into how and why different people on different ends of the emotional-analytical spectrum negotiate.
Mnookin has a three-step challenge for effective negotiation,
“The first is to avoid emotional traps that can lead to hasty and knee-jerk decisions… The second challenge is to analyze the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action… The third challenge is to address the ethical and moral issues that often arise when one is trying to decide whether to negotiate with an enemy” (Mnookin 16).
As a logical person, I have a firm grasp of Mnookin’s first challenge of avoiding emotional traps. The second challenge is a concept that I practice, but in a different way than what Mnookin describes. I perform cost-benefits analysis as an extension of reevaluating an emotional reaction to a disagreement whereas Mnookin seems to analyze in a more complicated manner, going into outcomes of different logical conclusions. The third challenge on ethic and moral issues is a new concept and one that I disagree with. If I negotiate, my goal is to come out on top and be the winner, ethics and moral issues do not seem to influence my negotiations.
Since “individuals vary to the extent that one or other mode of reasoning is dominant” (Mnookin 17), I have had the opportunity to negotiate with many different modes of negotiation. My most frustrating “negotiations” are with people who lean towards the emotional side of the spectrum. Understandably, most of the reading does not discuss emotional debates. The Nelson Mandela section of the reading for example, was very strategic in rational negotiation. Throughout the story, the negotiations mostly revolved around two parties who were both extremely logical. This is to be expected since the debates involved high-ranking political leaders; positions where emotional control is important since an emotional leader can create a situation such as President bush, who “‘chooses based on his gut and his most deeply held convictions. Such was the case with Iraq'” (Mnookin 266), and we all have mixed feelings about the impact of the Iraq war.
Negotiating against an emotional person is a task that I find extremely difficult. Emotional negotiators fall into the negative traps that Mnookin speaks about: Tribalism, Demonization, Self-Righteous, and the Zero-Sum traps. I will use a young lady that I recently dated as an example for my most frustrating arguments against an emotional negotiator. Tribalism did not play a large role, although she did often create a male versus female perspective in her arguments. Demonization also plays a role in evolving the negotiation from its original problem (not putting the milk back in the refrigerator for example) into viewing the other side as evil (“You don’t put the milk back in the refrigerator, you must not care about me!”). Self-Righteousness is the most frustrating trap to deal with. When a person is emotional, they fail to see the other side of the argument; instead, they have their opinion and will stop at nothing to enforce it upon the other side. For example, when responding to a question such as “Why do you not care about me?” with “I do care about you”, the self-righteous trap intervenes and causes the emotional negotiator to disregard the response and continue their argument of “You do not care about me”. Lastly, the zero-sum trap falls in closely with the self-righteous trap. Since she views the other party (me) entirely at fault, she is naturally blinded by the notion that a win-win resolution can even exist. Fortunately, in these pettier negotiations, dehumanization, fight/flight and the call to battle traps do not play a major role as they do in political negotiations.
Despite my bias against emotional debates, I understand that they do have their place, and a successful emotional debate can exist. Negotiations become difficult when the parties involved are negotiating from different angles. To simplify a debate, both parties need to be in sync; logical negotiations work best when both parties are logical thinkers and emotionally charged arguments work best when both sides are influenced heavily by their emotions. Unfortunately, I do not have a solid grasp of effective emotional argument techniques and Mnookin mostly preaches about the successes of logical debate, therefore, I do not have a strong opinion on emotional arguments between two emotional parties even though I think that they would work more efficiently than a logical versus emotional debate.
Understanding that in order to successfully negotiate with an emotional person, I need to mirror an emotional stance, I realized the greatest flaw of being an analytical negotiator. Since I have the capacity to take a step back from an emotionally charged situation and analyze the cost and benefits of each alternative course of action. I should logically be able to take an emotional stance to successfully negotiate with an emotional person. I logically know how to be effective in winning a negotiation with an emotional person. In reality however, my analytical mind suppresses the intuitive reasoning and I am left frustrated as I negotiate against emotions with logic.
In addition to the three challenges that Mnookin presents, I want to add a fourth challenge: The challenge of understanding the opposing party. Mnookin briefly addresses this issue as
“…the tension between empathy and assertiveness… Empathy requires good listening skills and the ability to demonstrate an understanding of the other side’s needs, interests, and perspectives without necessarily agreeing. Assertiveness requires the ability to state clearly and confidently the interests and perspectives of one’s own side” (Mnookin 134).
I feel like this is such an important issue in negotiations that it deserves its own title of a challenge. Understanding the opposite party’s viewpoint and goals and being assertive in having them understand your goals are a critical factor to successful negotiating. A lack of stepping up to this challenge occurs in many controversial topics and as a result, controversial topics have the impression that they are never solved because both sides do not understand each other and end up negotiating in circles.
The first example that emerged in my thoughts when I read about this challenge is the controversial debate on choice and life. Both sides of abortion are capable of listing valid pros and cons in their ongoing negotiation to prove their pro-life or pro-choice views. Unfortunately, the reason that the two sides cannot come to a conclusion is not because they are unable to convince the opposing party to acquiesce, the issue is that they are not even debating the same topic. In the debate on abortion, pro-life activists view abortions as murder because they see an embryo as a living being. No one can disagree that murder is an “evil” act and the stuck point of this debate is not valid because Pro choice believers would not disagree with banning murder but instead, disagreeing on whether an embryo is a life or just cells. The fundamental lack of empathy in this debate is not whether abortion is murder, but whether the embryo should be considered life. Until both sides can overcome the challenge of empathizing with the other side on understanding what they are actually negotiating, controversial topics such as abortion will continue to stay controversial.
Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin explained many approaches that I have encountered when negotiating with people. Despite my bias that a logical approach to reasoning and negotiations is preferred to an intuitive approach, this reading helped me realize the value of incorporating both models of negotiation through the Bikuta opening and its display of a counterbalance for an overly rational argument. Understanding is the breaking factor of negotiations and therefore, if either party cannot understand the opposing party, then to answer Mnookin’s original thesis, negotiation is not going to be an effective option.