Monday, January 30, 2006

Negotiating through Media

In a totally connected world governments and others frequently negotiate by public statements they expect to get into newspapers and on TV, and from there to their opposite entities. For example, In January the Israeli government made a public statement through its acting prime minister that it would not talk further toward peace with the Palestinian Authority, now lead by HAMAS, until HAMAS renounces violence.

On its face that looks like a cutoff of talks, but it is not. It is just negotiating publicly. HAMAS is not likely to comply literally, but if it wants to move toward peace, it will make a counter-offer. Perhaps it will agree not to use violence so long as the Israeli government is willing to talk about HAMAS’s ‘just grievances.’ (The latter is my hypothetical, not a HAMAS statement.)

Labor and management, Republicans and Democrats, and other pairings frequently use this channel to negotiate. Why? Two reasons. First, they want to de-escalate but their clients or supporters are in such high dudgeon the representatives cannot be seen in the same room as their counterparts, or they will be seen as selling out their principles. So the idea is to have some talks via the media, spiral down the confrontation, and get to a point where their clientele will accept their talking directly. “We will not talk until they renounce violence” is more peaceful than “We will not talk.”

Alternatively, the point is to intimidate the other side. Then it usually comes with an “or else,” such as “or else Tuesday we will renounce the current contract and start firing union employees.” Either way, however, there are risks.

The big risk is bollixed messages. The media may well change the exact words or thoughts. Mostly that happens by truncation—passing part of the message. Whether by garbling or truncating, if the other side hears it wrong, and it was intended to keep a door open, they may actually raise their rhetoric and make things worse. So the message has to be wordsmithed to be as simple as possible.

The other risk is that the media don’t find the message interesting or controversial—newsworthy—enough and just don’t carry it. What do you do then?

If the message via media was to intimidate, and it does not go through, then the strategy of intimidation may fail. One might then have to deliver a direct message such as a letter, and that usually does not have the ‘ballsy’ quality of a threat via media.

Negotiation 101: You can negotiate via the press or TV/radio/Web, but make sure your message is simple, unambiguous and newsworthy, whether you are trying to de-escalate or intimidate.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mickey Mouse Makes Deal for Playmates

Mickey Mouse has bought some electronic playmates for $7.5 billion, as Disney buys Pixar. Three months earlier it would not have been possible. Why could a deal be made now?

In January 2004 Pixar broke off talks with Disney to extend their distribution deal past spring ‘06: Pixar made ‘em and Disney marketed ‘em. Why, since they had a very mutually profitable deal? Apparently Disney’s Mike Eisner grated on Pixar’s Steve Jobs. Pixar was and is of Emeryville, CA near San Francisco, while Disney is of Burbank near L.A. The principal’s personalities fit their locations.

Eisner may have grated on the Disney Board because they kicked him out and put in one Robert A. Iger as CEO in the fall of ‘05. Evidently Iger and Jobs jelled, and the deal came out of the dish. Little else changed beside who was dealing with whom.

Negotiation 101: Often whether a deal happens at all or not will depend very much on the personalities of the people dealing, while the terms of the deal will depend on things favored by accountants.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Does Secret NSA Wire-tapping Break a Deal With Congress?

I am not aiming to get into the political thicket surrounding the Program authorized by Pres. Bush. This Program, implemented by the National Security Agency (NSA) is for intercepting communications involving Americans and legal immigrants without warrants. There has already been plenty of talk about whether it is good or bad policy and there will be more.

Instead, I am concerned with the negotiation aspect of the Program. In 1978 Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA. It is clear FISA was a result of a negotiation between Congress and the Executive branch. That deal was about what was workable, what objectives would be served, how the judiciary would be involved, and a host of other details. It was certainly not Congress making rules in a vacuum.

So we come forward from 1978 to the horrific events of 9/11/2001. From what we know, soon after that the President, Justice Department and NSA put together a plan of interceptions without applying to the special secret court for warrants. (Its operations are secret, but its existence is not) That is not the negotiated arrangement. Whether the President has authority under Article II of the Constitution to do this anyway is, again, for others to debate. So is the argument that the statute about invading Afghanistan implicitly authorized the Program.

So the Program may be fine and necessary, but it leaves questions about the negotiations leading to FISA in 1978. If an entity (here, the Executive branch) makes a deal with another entity (here, Congress), and over 20 or more years the individuals change, is the deal still in effect? Is it in effect until it is changed or one or the other tells the other it will no longer follow the deal?

Here, the President had his people brief eight members of Congress about the new Program. But those eight were barred by law (possible felony prosecution) from telling even other members of Congress that the deal was off.

Many members of Congress have expressed problems with the fact that FISA was apparently ignored (the deal was broken). I think there are more of those than have expressed concerns with alleged constitutional usurpation by the Executive Branch or general civil liberties issues. This could affect the President’s ability to negotiate with Congress the rest of his term.

Negotiation 101: What happens after the deal is made—whether people carry it out in good faith—may be more important than the terms of the deal itself.

Negotiation 101: When a deal is made between two organizations and it is intended to run a long time, people in both expect it to last after the negotiators leave.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Can We Negotiate the World's Way Out of the Iran Nuke Mess?

For many months, if you watch TV news, you have seen Iran go forward toward making nuclear weapons. There have been talks, on and off, between European powers and the US on one side and the Iranian government on the other. Europe and the US made dire threats of economic blockades and so forth. Iran then elected an even more stubborn nut case as Prime Minister.

This new guy, whose name westerners can’t pronounce or remember, claims the Holocaust never happened and preaches Israel should be pushed into the sea. Meanwhile, at home in Iran the Islamists push a repressive regime of closing newspapers, blocking western music and thought, etc. Western threats of blockades have not worked, and produced a worse situation. Can a deal still be struck?

I think so. Still, Western negotiation strategy must change. Thus far the goal has been to threaten Iran into submission, and the strategy has been threats. Forget it. Iran is Persia. It has been around thousands of years, and its people are proud of their successful history. Surrounded by Arab nations and mostly Muslim, they maintain their own language of Farsi (Persian). They are tough and they know what they want.

Instead of ever more nightmarish Western threats, none believable, the West needs to work on discovering what Iran really needs. I suspect that nuclear weapons, which will cost billions of dollars to develop or buy parts of, are not the real need. The closer they get to having nukes, the broker Iran gets, and the closer to Israel making a first nuclear strike. Bad stuff.

We found out after the Cold War that what Russia really wanted was not world conquest but to believe the West (US, et al.) no longer was planning to invade. I don’t know whether we were planning this, but they thought so and had reason to believe it.

My guess is Iranians in the street have similar fears of invasion. After all, whether for reasons you may approve or not, nearby Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded . We need to find their real fears and fearlessly address them, without compromising our own security.

Negotiation 101: Learn the real needs of your negotiating partner, forget pounding the table, and address the needs.

If we apply this, we can defuse the Iran Nuke situation.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Marble Deal

"I don't care if it's a '4 Panel End of Day 15/16" Onionskin.' It's still just a marble, and I won’t give you a hundred bucks for it. 75 bucks, my final offer, take it or leave it."

"Look, it’s worth every nickel, but I need the cash, so I’ll throw in this china-grade hand painted clay marble from the 1800s. In fact I’ll give you three of them, all different, for the next five minutes or forget it."

This little negotiation started off as a traditional negotiation, "position based". Many negotiations never get more sophisticated, and may end in no deal. If one party switches to a “needs-based” bargaining model, things can go forward.

That can happen by one asking the other what his or her real needs are. Almost every deal is really based on multiple dimensions—if nothing else, the terms of payment. A buyer, like this one, may need quick cash, but willing to throw in something extra "to boot." On the other hand, a buyer may need time to complete payment, and be willing to come up in price to get the time.

Negotiation 101: needs-based negotiation seeks to discover this information to smooth the way to a deal. For more, see my article at A Better Way to Negotiate .

Is It Ever Wrong To Negotiate?

A couple comes home from a party to find their million-dollar Dali painting gone from the wall. A day or so later their insurance company says it has gotten a message through “channels” that the Dali can be bought back at a reasonable price. Does the couple say they “never negotiate with burglars?” I doubt they would say that and never see Dali again.

Change the story: now it is their 5 year old, taken away from the custody of the babysitter while they were at a party. Do they “never deal with abductors?” I can't imagine parents saying that.

What if the abduction is instead an ‘abduction in place’ at, say, a bank being robbed? Is it appropriate for the police to say they “never deal with hostage takers?” Do the stakes belong to the police, so they may make that decision? Is it good policy? After all, it's an abduction, like the 5 year old.

What if there is an abduction in, say, Baghdad, of a journalist, or a worker for an NGO or a non-Iraqi civilian contractor. Should the abductee’s foreign ministry or state department say it “never deals with terrorists?” Is that always a good policy? Are they “terrorists” only because they do not have their own land? If they did, would they then be “the enemy?” Does one ever negotiate with the enemy?

I am not asking political but rather moral and practical questions. What do you think are the best answers? Negotiation 101: Think long and hard before refusing to negotiate a solution.