Animal’s Guide to Negotiation and Compromise — Out at the Sharp End. – Marc MacYoung


I was asked the eternal question. Well okay, so it’s not really eternal, but — because I talk so much about negotiation and compromise — I get asked it A LOT. “How do you negotiate with such people?”
Such people are the bullies, temper tantrum throwers and “NO COMPROMISE!” idealists (read, pain in the ass fanatics).

Here’s the thing. Most the people asking this question are ‘nice people.’ Unfortunately nice people translates into “People who have been conditioned to let others do the dirty work about shutting down bad behavior. People who have lost the skillset — much less the willingness — to do it themselves.”

Yeah, about that…
Here are basic skillsets to help you break the habits that leave you vulnerable to being bullied by ‘such people.’

We’re going to start by quoting Nietzsche. “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
Keep that in mind, it will become important later.

Moving on, realize that although I speak long and loud about compromise, it isn’t from a warm fluffy kumbaya singing standpoint. As a friend of mine once summed up “Negotiation without the means to back it up is just begging.” I’m not much into begging.

My deep love for negotiation and compromise is rooted in fact that shooting people — who are shooting back at you — is rather … unpleasant.
(And gawds know there’s all that paperwork. But before paperwork there’s the whole surviving being shot at issue. Which people who haven’t been shot at [or think they have a monopoly on doing the shooting] don’t realize is NOT as easy as they think. And of course when your friends and loved ones don’t survive, that isn’t much fun either.)
Negotiation, compromise and treating with people are the absolute best and effective ways I know of keeping blood off the walls and all over the floor. Yay for them! Love not having to scrub the walls or shampoo the carpet. ‘Cause trust me, that shit smells.

Many people fail to understand that compromise has different levels. Not just that compromise works on many levels. (Which BTW is very true, yet often forgotten.) But there are many levels and types of compromise. Yeah there’s all kinds of complex, on going negotiations over trade, business, and politics. But it works it way down through different levels until it can get to “You don’t make a move. I don’t make a move and we both walk away from this situation alive.” If it’s a one time deal, it’s done and over. If there are proximity issues then it gets into a more complex ‘to avoid having to shoot each other you stay on your side of the fence and I stay on mine.”
But remember kiddies — YAY for compromise!

Having said that. Not everyone can be negotiated and compromised with. In fact, some people you’re just going to have to shoot in the face. Not just because they’re absolutists, but because they’ll never agree to ‘you stay on your side of the fence and I’ll stay on mine.’ (Which is ~gasp~ a form of compromise.) Nope. EVERYTHING is their side of the fence and you are on their property.

Make no mistake. These people exist. However, they are radically different than someone who has learned they can get away with not compromising. To the point of it has become their negotiation strategy. And a very successful strategy it has become. These folks are as common as cockroaches. And now for the cold bucket of water over your head.
This strategy relies on you being a wimp.

But more than that, it relies on you not knowing there are other options than negotiation and compromise. Or you being unwilling to do them (see wimp comment). All you got is trying to compromise (see begging comment). Their hissy fit depends entirely on you not being willing to make NOT compromising too costly. Not in the sense of a screaming argument costly, but a shrug of ‘okay, if you insist’ before you drop them.

The reason I say they are as common as cockroaches, is like cockroaches they come in all sizes. They can range in size and targeting from a 12 year old being snarky with mom to Khrushchev banging ‘his’ magical third shoe on the table at the UN. The core strategy is the same, what varies is the degree and who they target. Which basically boils down to who they think can get away with it with.

If you’re afraid to stand up to people — whether because of the person or from fear of institutional reprisal — that means you. In other words, you aren’t negotiating, you’re begging — and THEY know it. Even if you don’t.
Which brings us back to not becoming a monster, but first a word about negotiating.

One of best models for negotiation I ever came across is done with two circles. (BTW, I got this from SSgt Grizzly Bear whose MOS is ‘Find evil men and shoot them in the face.”) Each circle represents the wants and needs of a party. For negotiation to happen there has to be some overlap (Think Venn Diagram). The more overlap — while still staying distinct — the easier it is to compromise. The less, the harder and more likely failure.

Common example, you have something to sell. I want to buy. You have the maximum you want and minimum you’ll take. I have maximum I’ll pay and the minimum I want to pay. As long as there is overlap, we have something to talk about.

The key point here is everyone gets what they need… not necessarily what they want (there’s a difference)… but what they need. This makes compromise a win/win.

If however, there is no agreement (no overlap if you will) we go our separate ways. I do not need THAT particular one. We walk away from each other seeking to get what we need — if not want. Although not technically accurate think of agreeing to walking away as a lower level of compromise and agreement. We agree to let the other person go about his/her way.

Got this? If everyone plays by these rules we can go about our business of getting what we need — and maybe even what we want. Cool beans.

Problems occur however, when someone wants their ‘circle’ to eclipse yours.This is not compromise or negotiation, it’s an invasion. Worse, it’s not an occupation. It’s more like the aliens form Independence Day where they come in, strip the planet and then move on.

We’re gonna have to talk about that happy horseshit.
MOST people who do this behavior are La Cucaracha. They’re used to getting away with this because most people are afraid to say “Not only no, but HELL no.” (Or if you’re a Southern girl, “Awww hell no.”) When they run into people who are willing to say it … well, you know what happens with roaches when you flip the light on. (Except unlike real roaches, damn are these people loud as they scurry away.)

The others are the ones you’re going to have to evicerate because there’s no compromising with them. They’re going to try to invade no matter what you do.

The trick is not only to be able to tell the difference, but react accordingly. Even it it means letting the son of a bitch live and walk away because he didn’t cross the line. But if he does cross the line… oh well, I’m pretty sure I made it clear what would happen.

I hope the Nietzsche quote has been simmering on the back burner. Because the only thing that separates monsters from those fighting monster is ethics, rules, standards and codes of conduct. Things like letting the cockroaches scuttle to safety — instead of assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is an extremist and must be shot in the back of the head.

What are your standards about telling people no? What are your ethics about compromise and negotiation? How much do you allow other people to get what they need? Are you playing for a win/win or is your negotiation based on the assumption it’s a zero sum game? What are the lines you won’t cross? What are the lines you absolutely won’t allow to be crossed? Under what conditions will you act? When will you start? When will you end? How much time do you spend honing these skills?

You asked how do you negotiate with ‘such people’? Well start out with it’s not a technique. It’s more understanding negotiation and compromise. Then responding on the level and how hard they’re coming at you. And, of course, balancing the acceptance that sometimes a situation can’t be negotiated (and must be resolved by other means) with not crossing the line and becoming a monster yourself.

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