What we’ve got here is a failure to negotiate

The National Basketball Association is still dealing with a lockout as a result of players and owners butting heads.

A so-called supercommittee of congressional legislators has failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan that prevents even billions of dollars more in painful, automatic and across-the-board cuts from going to effect.

More broadly, Republicans and Democrats in Congress remain farther apart than ever on key issues like taxes and the role of government.

I’m starting to see a pattern here: What we’ve got here is a failure to negotiate.

The economy is in shambles and nobody is attending professional basketball games these days for one simple reason: people have forgotten – if they ever really knew at all – how to negotiate effectively.

The most fundamental element of any good negotiation comes from the great English philosopher Michael Jagger. “You can’t always get what you want.”

Imagine how differently the country would look right now if some of these deadbeat decision makers tried a few of these approaches:

- Start with numbers. The congressional supercommittee had 12 members. I say that’s 10 too many. Why can’t a deal be reached with two honest brokers, one from each opposing camp? Imagine how efficient it would be to try and jointly write one book with 12 authors.

- Those two dealmakers need to be given a framework. They need to be working toward a specific goal, not the idea of a goal. Even if lease terms haven’t been drafted when two sides sit down to arrange a property rental, the sides at least agree on why they’re there in the first place.

- Speaking of which: part of the trouble is this idea that compromise is bad – after all, add just one letter and compromise becomes compromised, which no one wants to be. But negotiating does not automatically equal compromise. Compromise is only an element of the larger process of negotiation.

It’s easy to say “I don’t negotiate with terrorists” until the life of one of your family members is on the line. It’s probably a no-brainer that the hostage in that scenario is going to prefer the outcome of negotiations with the negotiator who’s got a stake in the outcome as opposed to the defiant one – the one who has nothing to lose.

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Dansette

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