Single Speed Seattle http://singlespeedseattle.com Bikes, Business & Barratry Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:39:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ultimatums and Bluffs http://singlespeedseattle.com/lawsuit-threats/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/lawsuit-threats/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:37:19 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1228 Ultimatums can have their place in any negotiation, but they are best used sparingly and with care. And while I’ve gotten the best results by being quite direct in negotiations, being too direct – throwing down an ultimatum – raises a significant risk that your discussions will come to an abrupt end.

Which means, of course, that you should be OK with that outcome if you make an ultimatum.  “My way or the highway,” as they say – and if the other side opts for “highway,” that’s fine.

The corollary to this principle is that it is a mistake to bluff when making ultimatums. The reason is simple: if you make an ultimatum, and then walk it back when the other side resists, you’ve cost yourself a massive amount of negotiating credibility.  It makes the other side wonder why they should believe anything you say, making it doubly hard to get what you need in the deal. 1

Unfortunately, I regularly experience firsthand attorneys violating this principle with their own particular brand of ultimatum: the lawsuit threat.

It’s kind of depressing that attorneys reach for this little trick so reflexively. But I suppose to some, if you’ve got that hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. And it must work at least some of the time, at least when dealing with power imbalances or inexperienced negotiators.

But the problem with the lawsuit threat is the same problem of any ultimatum: if you don’t intend to follow through with it, and the other side isn’t impressed with your threat, you’ve got nothing left to do but slink away.

Maybe that’s OK for some attorneys, but in a profession where reputation is so important, it feels awfully cheap to me to just throw one’s credibility around. And there’s a related problem as well, as lawyer (and Harvard business school professor) Ben Edelman just found out: that your threats will reveal, via the magic of social media, what an insufferable tool you really are.

All of this is why most savvy attorneys rarely make lawsuit threats – they just file.  Or they only make a threat when their client is ready to pull the trigger on a lawsuit.  2

So back to the question: why would an attorney threaten a lawsuit he or she had no intention of bringing? Maybe because they feel like they have leverage over a small business, which has heard the tale of the lawyer suing for $10 million over a dry cleaning mistake.  Or because they feel they can browbeat or intimidate a low-level employee pr small business owner into getting their way (Harvard prof Edelman is obviously big on this tactic).

Not that any of that is right, but at least I can understand the logic.

But why would a lawyer make a threat like this to me?  It takes less than minute to look my background up, see that I may know a few things about media law and negotiating, and realize that the ol’ lawsuit threat bluff isn’t going to work.

Why would they make it to a restaurant owner with a large social media following, who can effectively embarrass them on a national stage?

It should occur to them that their target may turn the tables on them, and make their demands look like the churlish “standing on rights” that they typically are.

Yet lawyers continue to do this, over and over again. 3 It’s just appalling how little work goes into thinking through the efficacy of rolling out the lawsuit threat.  Believe it or not, many businesses don’t quake in fear at the thought of being sued. Many of us will just tell you to get lost – or if you really piss us off, we will make you pay, both reputationally and in actual dollars.

So lawyers, trust me – the “tool” of clearly explaining your position and asking politely for something reasonable? That’s a hell of a lot more effective than threatening to sue.

And it’s certainly a lot less likely to end up with you at the center of an epic media shitstorm.

Notes:

  1. This is also why bluffs work when playing poker. You actually want your bluffs to be called occasionally precisely because you don’t want credibility – predictability – at the poker table.
  2. On exactly one occasion in my legal career did I threaten a lawsuit I didn’t intend to follow through with. I still cringe thinking of it. And no, of course my bluff didn’t work.
  3. OK, and non-lawyers, too – witness the buffoonery of clown-troll Charles Johnson’s many lawsuit threats.
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Ethics in Negotiation http://singlespeedseattle.com/ethics-in-negotiation/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/ethics-in-negotiation/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:27:49 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1220 When I first started blogging, I was exclusively doing mergers and acquisitions work, and a frequent topic for my posts was the ins and outs of negotiations.

A recent kerfuffle in the legal marketing world has raised an issue I haven’t addressed before – what are the acceptable limits of veracity in negotiation?  Or to put a sharper point on it, to what extent is it acceptable to lie to counterparties when negotiating?

Mirriam-Webster defines a lie as to “make an untrue statement with intent to deceive” or “to create a false or misleading impression.” This covers both affirmative lies and lies of omission.

And here’s the thing: anyone with the least experience negotiating knows that there are plenty of lies that are acceptable in the negotiating process.  It’s routine for parties to attempt to create a false impression of their level of interest in a deal, their bottom-line terms, or their feelings about their counterparties.   Many are the occasions when I’ve overstated my leverage, feigned indifference, and laughed at jokes that fall flat.

But I’ve always drawn the line at making shit up.

The reason it’s acceptable to  misrepresent one’s underlying motivation or feelings is that, fundamentally, motivations and feelings aren’t facts. They are fluid conditions, subject to change. They can shift based on any number of internal or external factors – including the persuasive powers of the person on the other side of the negotiation.

For example: if you ask “how much EBITDA did your company earn last year?”  your question seeks data that is fixed, and you expect a straightforward answer.   But asking “what’s the lowest price you’d sell your company for?”  The answer to that question isn’t fixed – even if your counterparty gives you the most transparent answer they can at the time, the “real” answer can – and probably will – change.  But because it’s not fixed – and it may not even be properly definable, given the fluidity involved – negotiators know that it is neither helpful nor required that they try at every turn to be completely transparent about their motivations.

So this is where people get hung up: they conflate this acceptable obfuscation of feelings, motivations and positions with the unacceptable invention of things that aren’t true.

There is a big difference between feigning a lack of interest in an offer and materially misrepresenting your operating results or professional background. Letting these lines get blurry – letting the facts get blurry – can make for a quick trip to a negotiator’s reputational ruin.

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Ebola Bike Ride!! http://singlespeedseattle.com/ebola-bike-ride/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/ebola-bike-ride/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 19:07:56 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1224 Ebola craziness has come to this: completely asymptomatic nurse Kaci Hickox – whose only crime was to treat unfortunates in West Africa for Ebola – is trailed by police when she defies a state-ordered home detention to go for a bike ride.

Go, Kaci – ride your bike!

Here’s my take from yesterday on the nuttiness of letting our reactionary “laboratories of democracy” create quarantine policies based on fear rather than science.

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The Fastest Way Around Town http://singlespeedseattle.com/the-fastest-way-around-town/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/the-fastest-way-around-town/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 03:07:36 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1215 The Stranger tries an 8-way race, 3.5 miles cross town, to see which mode of transport is fastest.

Duh.

I could have told them that. 3.5 miles is the same distance as my daily commute; it’s consistently fastest door-to-door if I do it by bike.

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Pronto First Look http://singlespeedseattle.com/pronto-first-look/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/pronto-first-look/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 00:05:10 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1202 IMG_3045-0.JPG
“Pronto,” Seattle’s bike share system, launched today, with some 500 bikes spread across 50 stations. A couple of those stations are mere blocks from my office, so I took one of the shiny green things for a quick shakedown cruise.

The system operates similar to those found in other cities – insert your key fob (if you’re a member) or use the kiosk to buy a pass (if you’re a visitor), press a button to unlock a bike, adjust the seat height if needed, and off you go.

Unlike the 3-speed bike share bikes I’ve ridden in flat places like D.C., Denver and Columbus (yeah, freaking Columbus freaking Ohio got bike share before Seattle!), the Pronto bikes have a 7-speed internal hub. The shifting mechanism works well, but as you’d expect with heavy bikes that need to cater to a wide swath of people, the gearing is set pretty low. These things aren’t built for speed, and those accustomed to riding single speed are rarely going to need to shift out of gears 6 and 7, even climbing Pine Street.

It remains to be seen how well the helmet system will work. Right now it’s on the honor system, with the dreaded helmet vending machines expected sometime next year. I really hope the system proves popular, and the stations expand around town. It’s a great addition to Seattle’s transportation infrastructure, particularly for quick point-to-point trips around downtown and Capitol Hill. I’m excited to use it more in the months to come.

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I Don’t Like the 2nd Ave Bikeway http://singlespeedseattle.com/i-dont-like-the-2nd-ave-bikeway/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/i-dont-like-the-2nd-ave-bikeway/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 16:55:56 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1191 It’s a bit out of my way, but I took a detour this morning and rode into work along the entire length of the new 2nd Ave bikeway, which opened bright and shiny and new this morning.

For those not familiar with Seattle, the bikeway runs down a particularly busy street in the heart of downtown.  It replaces a traditional bike lane that was the scene of a tragic death just days ago.  Like most bike lanes in Seattle, the old 2nd Ave lane was dangerous for putting riders directly in the “door zone” of parked cars.  And it was doubly dangerous because it ran downhill, on a busy one-way street also running downhill, and was on the left where fewer drivers would expect to see bikes.

The new bikeway is still on the left, but it’s separated from traffic and benefits from a system of bike-specific lights designed to prevent collisions with left-turning vehicles. This morning had a bit of a festive air, with lots of riders trying out the bikeway, and earnest volunteers from Cascade Bicycle Club cheering riders along and offering ready-made postcards to send to the mayor thanking him for adding this bit of cycling infrastructure.  The bikeway needs a little more work – better demarcation between the uphill and downhill lanes, and some surface smoothing in a lot of places – but it’s certainly an improvement over the old lane . . .

if you like riding in the bike lane.

If this morning was any indication, riders are going to rely on the bike signals at their peril.  I had not one, but two cars blow through red turn signals (and green bike signals) across my path.  Fortunately for me, when I do ride in bike lanes, I always ride assuming cars can’t see me – which means never, ever, ever going through an intersection when a car traveling the same direction is next to or slightly ahead of me.

I fear that the bikeway has the potential to make matters worse, at least until a critical mass of riders are passing through downtown.  At several intersections, a line of parked cars separates the bikeway from traffic.  That’s great, but it also prevents left-turning vehicles from seeing downhill bicycle traffic, and vise-versa.  If those vehicles don’t mind the left turn signal (as the cars did to me this morning), there will be more collisions on 2nd.

For riders, the bikeway can’t be a panacea.  It’s not a replacement for critical thinking.  Those little bicycle signals may look pretty, but riders will continue to need to pay close attention to what vehicle traffic is doing.

And for me?  The next time I ride downhill on 2nd, I’m going to do what I’ve always done – take the lane.

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Seattle Bike Share Almost Here http://singlespeedseattle.com/seattle-bike-share-almost-here/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/seattle-bike-share-almost-here/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:02:17 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1186 Despite some website difficulties (and my skepticism about the program’s success, given Seattle’s nanny-statish helmet law), I signed up for a membership with “Pronto,” Seattle’s new bikeshare service.  It’s scheduled to launch in mid-October.  Although the nearest initial station is a mile from my house, I figure it will give me yet another option for closing shorter distances downtown and on Capitol Hill.  And I want to support the program, of course.

One system that doesn’t need any additional support?  Any bike share system in China.  Vox reports today that China has over 400,000 bike share bikes – and growing, very, very rapidly.

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Bicycle Overdesign http://singlespeedseattle.com/bicycle-overdesign/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/bicycle-overdesign/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 00:11:40 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1179 So, this “Seattle” bike won some sort of bike contest for the “Ultimate Urban Bike” and is going into production.  While it’s vaguely cool looking, at least in a “Breaking Away” meets “Aliens” sort of way, it’s just another piece of evidence showing that bicycle design reached its evolutionary limits in the 1960’s.

dennybike

Sure, there are performance improvements and useful add-ons to make.  But when you starting compromising the handlebars by having them double as a lock, and replacing perfectly adequate fenders with some sort of crazy brush system that you KNOW is going to underperform and get clogged with junk, and adding another inverted triangle to the headtube geometry just because you can, you’ve gone beyond expanding the vernacular into design for design’s sake.

And I bet that headlight is WAY too bright for riding in the city.

Harrumph.

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Takes One to Know One http://singlespeedseattle.com/takes-one-to-know-one/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/takes-one-to-know-one/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 00:13:28 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1172 This excellent piece by Carl Alviani, titled “Why Bikes Make Smart People Say Dumb Things,” tackles the cognitive dissonance at work when people spew vitriol at the occasional scofflaw cyclist (or worse, tar all cyclists with that brush) while blithely accepting the carnage and lawlessness committed all around them by drivers.

As Alviani notes, the vast majority of people don’t ride bicycles, particularly in urban settings, leading to:

The social psychology term for this bias is “fundamental attribution error”: the tendency to attribute the actions of others to their inherent nature rather than their situation, and the less we sympathize with their situation, the greater the bias. A 2002 study from the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory found that it plays a starring role in our perceptions of traffic behavior, with drivers far more likely to see a cyclist’s infraction as stemming from ineptitude or recklessness than an identical one committed by another driver. 

This lack of sympathy for cyclists is also related to the failure of drivers to understand why someone on a bicycle might do something – even if that “something” is breaking the law.  A driver might understand and sympathize with another driver who cuts off a pedestrian in a crosswalk, but is aghast at the cyclist who rolls through a red light.

It also probably explains why I always feel safer riding on Capitol Hill. You see, it’s not only the relatively lower traffic speeds, but also the fact that so many of the drivers are bike-sympathetic riders who just happen to be driving at the moment.

Thanks, hipsters!

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No Surprise in Hobby Lobby http://singlespeedseattle.com/no-surprise-in-hobby-lobby/ http://singlespeedseattle.com/no-surprise-in-hobby-lobby/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 17:32:05 +0000 http://singlespeedseattle.com/?p=1166 As this blog is at least partly about the law, here’s my brief take on today’s Hobby Lobby case: although it seems strange and petty to me that it’s 2014 and we’re still having debates about contraception, it’s an unsurprising decision.

Why unsurprising?  Two reasons:  First,  if the government admits that some groups (e.g., non-profit corporations) have rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and it also admits that for-profit business owners have such rights, it’s pretty hard to make a cogent argument why for-profit corporations shouldn’t also have such rights.

Secondly, whether the RFRA precludes a particular form of regulation often comes down – as it did here – to a question of the “least restrictive means.”  As in “is this regulation set up in a way to achieve the government’s goal while interfering as minimally as possible with religious rights?”  And again, it’s really hard for the government to win this point when it has already granted exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious non-profits.  

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Congress enacted a law – in response to a Supreme Court decision that many felt was unduly dismissive of religious concerns – that offers sweeping protection for religious rights. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the government is going to be held to task in showing that it is complying with that law.  And on these facts, in this case, the government had a steeply uphill climb to make.

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