This column comes from a chapter in my forthcoming book, Answering the Kennedys Call to Promote World Peace and Freedom, a history of public service and community building by my own and more recent generations. This chapter documents the importance of cultivating good negotiating skills.
We start with perhaps the best-known example of bad negotiating skills; President Donald Trump of all people, who has called himself “the best negotiator in the world.” But we now know Trump’s deals in Art of the Deal were not good deals, since he lost more than $1.17 billion in ‘deals’ over the 10 years 1985-94, during the time it was written, according to the NYTimes.
So Trump had to know he was hurting when it was published in 2015. Trump’s co-author on The Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz—who apparently wrote almost the entire book himself—mentioned in a Forbes article that he worked hard to ignore all of the evidence of Trump’s poor deal-making, and “put lipstick on a pig” to create the image of Trump as a great negotiator.
“What’s interesting,” said MarketWatch columnist Paul Brandus in writing about Trump’s tax losses, “is that even with one mild recession, the overall period in question—1985 to 1994—was a boom time for the U.S. economy. GDP grew 43 percent, and the stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 grew 171 percent—not counting dividends.
In fact, a 2016 USA Today investigation mentioned by Brandus that I wrote about at the time revealed Trump, over the last three decades, has been the target of some 3,500 lawsuits by employees and contractors over alleged non-payment. Many of the people who sued Trump were hard-working blue-collar types like dishwashers, painters and waiters—the very kind of “small guys” that candidate Trump claimed he was always looking out for, said USA Today.
“The president’s alleged cheating continues to the present,” continued Brandus, “Trump has been hit with at least $5 million in unpaid liens by workers at his lavish new hotel here in Washington—just five blocks from the White House.”
It doesn’t take a genius negotiator to know why Trump has repeatedly failed to negotiate successfully. It means he never learned the art of negotiation, which needs to have what we call a “win-win” outcome in which both parties gain in some way—at least in the normal world we live in; if we want to build relationships and have a successful reputation, which Trump singularly lacks.
It means there is a buyer wanting something for a good price, and seller that still needs to make a profit; or negotiating the timing of a meeting; or parents negotiating with children over playtime, allowance, behavior, or whatever. The point being that the negotiation won’t succeed if an agreement isn’t reached that both sides feel is a win in some way.
It really needs to be called the Art of Compromise, since all parties know they will meet somewhere in the middle to be successful. But there is nothing Pollyanna about a successful negotiation, since in high stakes negotiations each side usually probes the other’s weaknesses; who may have a time constraint, or badly needs the money. One side can also threaten to walk away; as has happened in countless labor negotiations with management. There are lots of tricks to the trade, in other words.
But bullies and autocrats, such as President Trump, or politicos who refuse to compromise on their legislation, are doomed to fail in getting what they want, other than a temporary feeling of power. The dysfunctional federal government is such a case in point at present. Republicans since House Speaker John Boehner have consistently refused to compromise, and the result is almost no legislation has been passed, except for the 2017 Republican tax cuts that benefited only the wealthiest and is highly unpopular.
It doesn’t mean the art of negotiation can’t be learned. But it takes practice and some fortitude to be able to say no, or accept rejection, or even step back when it becomes too one-sided.
Harlan Green © 2019
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