On my first blog, I wrote extensively about negotiating – things I’d found effective and ineffective in a career spent negotiating business deals. One of last posts on Corporate Tool was during the debt limit crisis in 2011; it had to do with the difficulties of negotiating with crazy or completely unreasonable counterparties.
President Obama finds himself in that situation now, and he’s doing what I (and many others) wrote he should have done two years ago: refuse to negotiate. He didn’t follow that advice, which is why he finds himself dealing with an escalated variety of crazy this go-round.
But here’s the thing: the hardest about dealing with crazy counterparties is figuring out that they are, in fact, crazy. It’s a long road, particularly if you are reasonable sane, smart and objective yourself, to get to the point where the “these guys are batshit” lightbulb goes off. You want to believe they are reasonable. That they get how cause and effect works. That they understand the respective leverage each party holds. That they want to get a positive outcome for their side.
It may take repeated interactions to get past these assumptions and realize that fear, nuttiness, personal agendas, or a clinical lack of objectiveness is driving their behavior. And the longer it takes to get there, the more empowered they become. Their demands become more outrageous. They retrade. And heaven help you if you finally wrestle a deal to the ground, and then have to deal with them again.
The good news is that once you’ve figured out that you’re dealing with nutters, the negotiating strategy is straightforward: you don’t negotiate. Anything. Until they change out the team or demonstrate a newfound and durable commitment to sanity.
If anyone wonders why President Obama doesn’t give up, say, the 2.3% tax on medical devices, or a delay of the ACA individual mandate, in exchange for keeping the government funded, it’s because he’s finally figured out that he’s dealing with crazies in the House. People who are engaging in a form of economic terrorism in an effort to get their way. The answer to such tactics isn’t to sigh and give in – it’s to keep saying “no” until they come to their senses or the team is changed out.
Photo: Lexington, KY Historical Society (josh king)