Wednesday 1 August 2012

Negotiating: Take what you want or get what you want

North Korea rattles its sabers. A celebrity threatens to sue a tabloid. One company takes another company to court over copyright infringement. I want something. I'm negotiating. Do I try and take what I want or do I try and get you to give me what I want?

I was reading as of late about the failure of a marriage, the process of separating, and what I assume will be the eventual divorce. There was talk of the difficulties of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement about co-parenting and financial support. However despite these difficulties, the writer was trying to take the high road by not badmouthing the opposite side either in real life to family and friends or on the Net. This got me thinking about negotiating and how negotiating isn't necessarily about what's right or wrong; it isn't necessarily about what's fair or not fair; it's about getting the best deal for yourself. Negotiating uses psychology to manipulate people and to some it may sound underhanded but knowing human beings, their foibles, their strengths, and their quirks is all part of understanding the rules of the game. Like poker, to be a good player, you have to know the rules and respect them. All of this made me think of this old adage:

You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

In the past couple of years, I have read some stories which have curled my hair. Anthony Morelli of the web site The Psycho Ex-Wife took to the Net to explain his side of the story in what appears to be the Battle Royale of divorces. He details every madcap thing his wife has done while describing her in terms such as "on the precipice of 40 and probably looks all 50-years of it" and "Jabba the Hut with less personality" plus "f**king psycho" and a "black-out drunk". Is there any doubt Mr. Morelli is just a tad pissed at his ex-wife? (see my blog: The Psycho Ex Wife: ex bashing taken to the next level)

The real surprising part of this story for me was the amount of support Mr. Morelli garners. Countless commentators on the original web site waxed enthusiastic about the site and its message while extolling the virtues of Morelli's handling of the situation. Even comments on my blog posting about Mr. Morelli say that I do not understand high conflict divorces or bipolar people, one description of Morelli's ex-wife.

Tricia Walsh starts her story on an oddball foot when at the age of 43 she marries a man 25 years her senior, Philip Smith, 68. At some point, Philip decides to terminate their relationship and serves her with divorce papers based on the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement. Ms. Walsh doesn't take this lying down. No, she hires a film crew to come in and follow her around their New York condo recording her as she describes where her husband kept his Viagra and his stash of pornography. She explains the details of their sex life. Then she takes the six minute clip and posts it on YouTube. (As of this writing, the clip is no longer viewable.) (see my blog: Tricia Walsh: Let's divorce on YouTube!)

You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

People, people, people, what are we doing here? My goodness. You sit down at the table to negotiate and your opening statement is a salvo of diatribes. Think about it. I walk up to you and say, "I think you're a f**kin' s**thead and you damn well better give me what I want." What do you think the chances are that you're going to get angry and not give me what I want? If Anthony Morelli or Tricia Walsh were ever made part of the diplomatic mission whose responsibility was to broker a deal with North Korea, I guarantee you that within 24 hours the entire Korean peninsula would erupt in a nuclear holocaust.

Anthony Morelli's ex-wife eventually found out about the supposedly anonymous web site The Psycho Ex-Wife. She took him to court and a judge ruled that Morelli had to take it down. Tricia Walsh ended up in court and the judge not only sided with her husband but blasted her for her YouTube stunt, an obvious attempt at humiliating her husband and embarrassing him into settling more favourably than specified by the prenuptial agreement.

Over the years I've been angry with people. What do I look like to the rest of the world when I go ballistic and spew my venom? Scary? Crazed? How about out of control? Is negotiation comparable to poker? I don't see anybody at the poker table jumping up and down like a Mad Hatter. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen a group of people look so cold, calculating, and yes, in control. I can't help wonder what the outcome would have been if Anthony Morelli spent half the time and effort dealing with his ex-wife as he spent in vilifying her on his web site. I can't help wonder what the outcome would have been if Tricia Walsh had tried to talk reasonably with her husband instead of filming herself besmirching his good name across the entire planet.

Back when I was still a young whippersnapper, my father advised me to "write it down" then put it in a drawer for 24 hours and sleep on it. After a good night's sleep things look different. The idea, if it isn't obvious, is to give oneself a cooling off period. Saying something in the heat of the moment ofttimes leads to saying something we may regret later. After all, once North Korea presses the launch button, there's a good chance there will be no taking that one back.

High Conflict Situations: The Best Deal
According to the comments on my posting about Anthony Morelli, I don't understand high conflict situations. (I glance back at the previous text.) Oh? Anybody want to comment on calling your ex-wife a "f**king psycho" as not being the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire?

Get a lawyer. Educate yourself about the law. But don't forget one thing, the so called best deal is not necessarily fifty-fifty and it may not be fair. The best deal is just that, the "best deal". Two stories come to mind.

I was watching an amusing YouTube video about somebody walking out of the bedroom of their cottage to find a black bear in the kitchen eating some food. It wasn't good. It wasn't fair. But the best course of action was to run away. Sometimes your opponent is more powerful than you and you need to recognise that and get out of the way. He who runs away lives to fight another day.

Years ago I had a business deal where somebody was supposed to pay me $100 for some work. They didn't pay. I inquired about what to do to get my money. A lawyer would have cost several hundred dollars per hour for his time. I could take the person in question to small claims court but I would have to take time off of work and there was no guarantee the other person would show up. In the end, after weighing my options, I wrote off the hundred bucks. It wasn't fair but it was the best deal. It would be pretty silly to spend, let's say, two hundred dollars to get one hundred dollars.

What's Your Opening Position
You don't start the negotiations with "I think you're a f**kin' s**thead and you damn well better give me what I want." I'm sorry, I don't care if it's a business deal or a divorce, if that's your opening statement I almost guarantee you that you're in for WWIII. Incendiary language like that has no place at the poker table. You want to get the "best deal" and you're not going to do that if you start off by ticking off the other side. Poker is a game of strategy and sometimes luck. But it is very much a game of psychology or bluff. Be calm. Be cool. Don't give away your hand.

Gandhi: getting them to want to do it
I was always struck by Mahatma Gandhi and his handling of the British in India with a policy of non cooperation. Gandhi wanted the British out and he did exactly that. In the 1982 film, Gandhi says to a British soldier, "In the end you will walk out (British will leave India) because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians if those Indians refuse to cooperative, and that is what we intend to achieve. Peaceful, nonviolent, noncooperation until you yourself see the wisdom of leaving.'"

Now I am certain you may first interpret the inclusion of this reference as promoting non violence, remaining peaceful, etc. That isn't my point at all. It is this: the British left because they wanted to leave. Gandhi didn't force them to leave per se; he made them want to leave. That is the lesson here. Forcing somebody to do something is difficult, sometimes impossible. Even if you get them to do it once, you will have to watch over them to ensure they do it again. However, if you can get somebody to want to do it, to truly buy it into it, they will do it not because they have to but because they want to.

But let's be practical. Yes the British wanted to leave but Gandhi through his noncooperation movement had made life in India quite unbearable. I have had other business dealings where somebody has refused to pay me. I have taken them to court. It is all cool, calculated, and quite matter of fact. Don't do this, pay me, and I do that, have the court issue an order enforced by the sheriff. Physically, like a black bear, you may be bigger than me but guess what? You're not bigger than the entire system. Nobody is.

The carrot and the stick
The carrot: you would be an honourable gentleman if you paid me my money. The stick: the court will order your wages to be garnished.

But, I want clarify that I want the best deal for me. The old saying based on the poker metaphor is to know when to hold'em and when to fold'em. I don't want to get emotional and go after a hundred bucks because I'm angry and spend two hundred dollars in doing so. That's not good business and sometimes yes the crooks do get away with it. Crime sometimes does pay.

The big black bear wins: the best deal for me
Now before you think I am painting a rosy picture of always winning, let me tell you when I have lost. I have taken people to court and the court has sided with them. The law states that the person actually is not required to pay me the money I want. Big, bad cruel me. So, what's my best deal under these circumstances? Walk away. I don't want to; I don't think it's fair, but guess what? I don't have a choice. There's a big black bear in my kitchen eating my food and there's not a thing I can do about it other than not making my situation worse like having the bear eat me.

My rationalisation or is it the truth?
Over the years I have run into people who were, well, not very nice. Angry, nasty, even downright cruel, these people are an unpleasant experience best quickly forgotten. I have come to realise that those people must be having a really, really bad time in life. Why do I say that? I have met people who are living truly amazing lives and those people are kind, gentle, friendly, and generous to a fault. They seem to want to share their good fortune, spread their good luck, and show everyone how good life is. I meet somebody who is angry and I say that they must be living in their own hell. People with good lives are generally not angry, they are happy. I meet somebody who is angry or nasty and I feel sorry for them. Oh don't get me wrong, I quickly get out of the line of fire, but I'm not going to waste my time dwelling on some poor soul who has a grudge against the world. I may help if I can, but I'm not necessarily going to take it personal. I believe they have more than enough of their own misfortune.

Giving the other side a way out
You're going to win. The court is going to rule in your favour. Is now the time to gloat? Stick it to your opponent? Yes, to the victor go the spoils but should you beat the opposite side into the ground?

“In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”
-Winston Churchill

Desperate people do desperate things. If somebody can't see any way out of their predicament, there is a good chance they will do something rash like not pay you. Coming back to the idea that it is easier if somebody wants to do something as opposed to making them do something, sometimes easing up on the terms of victory can give the loser a way out. I don't mean not paying; I mean being able to pay but not losing everything.

Years ago, somebody owed me a thousand dollars. I took him to court and won but I didn't just stick it to him. I worked out a repayment plan which saw him erasing his debt over several months. Yes, it was all an inconvenience to me. Yes, I didn't get any interest on the money. Yes, I had my own bills to pay and had to find the money elsewhere but I eventually did get paid. It was the "best deal" for me and was certainly a heck of a lot better than not getting paid at all. I have seen people leave town in the middle of the night rather than pay their bills.

Final Word
Who likes confrontation? I don't. Many people don't. Unfortunately, confrontation is a part of life and we need to deal with it; we shouldn't shy away from it. Ignoring it is being irresponsible and unresolved problems tend to grow into bigger problems so it's better to nip it in the bud.

But, I know I have to be prepared. If I don't know the law, I need to educate myself. If I don't have a lawyer, I need to find one. If I can't afford to pay a zillion for a Rottweiler attorney, what other options are available to me? I want the best deal for me. And getting the best deal means I have to know when to use the carrot and when to use the stick. And it also means to know when to hold'em and when to fold'em. He who runs away lives.

“The only people with whom you should try to get even with are those who have helped you.”
-John E. Southard


"A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar."
- (1744) Benjamin Franklin
In 1757 Franklin gathered together what seemed to him the most striking of these proverbs and published them as a preface to the Almanac for 1758.

Memorable quotes for Gandhi (1982)
Brigadier: You don't think we're just going to walk out of India!
Gandhi: Yes. In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate.


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