Any presidential campaign has things to teach. This round has had big lessons in negotiation.
Normally when you see powerful people negotiating, there are useful things to gain by watching the process they use. For example, Donald Trump relies on unpredictability to avoid telegraphing his intentions.
But the biggest instructor is not Trump but the entire Democratic race and the #BernieOrBust movement. Supporters of both Sanders and Hillary Clinton have effectively had a standoff.
Clinton seems likely to gain the nomination. Those in her camp, or willing to be reconciled to her camp, say that the most important point is to have a Democrat as president and that Clinton has the experience to do the job. They tell Sanders supporters to transfer their support to Clinton because that helps avoid the chance of the Republican nominee being elected.
The Bernie or Bust crowd says the Democratic party is too alike the Republicans in big money influence and the lack of practical action in fundamental areas that need change. They say they won't vote for Clinton, should she become the nominee.
Put the politics aside for a moment. There's an interplay of two important aspects of negotiation that you see, each represented by one of the sides.
The go-for-Clinton camp support a BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, strategy. That's the best solution you can come to if you can't get the agreement you want. In negotiation theory, the BATNA becomes Plan B and acts both as a way for someone to evaluate a deal and as a tool to help push for better terms. Clinton supporters tell the hard core Sanders people that having the Republican elected is an even worse option, so voting for Clinton is their BATNA.
On the other hand, the Bernie or Bust concept is tied to the need to be able to say no. Under this idea, if you aren't able to walk away from a deal, you can't effectively negotiate because no matter how bad the offer, you wouldn't be able to refuse. Call it the Godfather predicament. So the busters say they're taking the "leave it" option.
The interplay between the two aspects comes down to the particular arrangement of principles and assumptions each side holds. Such foundations show why neither side can adequately explain its logic to the other. They're working under fundamentally different expectations and interests, and each side tells the other that its assumptions are foolish. But there is no absolute right or wrong approach.
The lessons for the would-be successful negotiator?
- You have to be clear in your fundamental values and assumptions.
- Consider whether your negotiation goals are really tied to your values.
- If there are divisions on your side about taking a deal, look at everyone's assumptions and work on communications.
- Understand there may be times you need to hold your nose or even walk out the door.
- Look at your goal timelines. Can walking away today leave space for ultimate success?