Leaders Negotiating Badly: Bridging the “Cliff” (with help from Tom Toles)

toles11092012The budget deadline, aka “fiscal cliff” is testing our patience and the leadership qualities of Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans veer between pretending to want to negotiate…

and coming to the table to negotiate while hoping negotiation is not necessary…

Tom Toles Cartoon 12-5

to negotiating a position that it’s the other side’s fault, while admitting that it doesn’t want to negotiate…


(Read more Tom Toles cartoons on the budget crisis…)

to…. who knows what’s possible when both sides admit that there’s not much difference between the sides, when the budget deadline looms.

By the way, Tom Toles and pundits aside, who can blame the Republicans for wanting to hold on to past policies, glory days, older values and wealth? It’s only human, to believe we’re right (no pun intended). We imagine we can fix it our way, but then we have to face people who disagree in civil negotiation, or fall off the fiscal cliff.

Fiscal Cliff: probably the worst metaphor in the world to support civil negotiation! Aargh!

Fiscal cliff! How can we bridge a cliff? That metaphor should be banned, to prevent followers from lemming-like, expecting only impending doom! To prevent negotiators from deciding they’re preventing the end of the world, therefore cementing their positions into extremes!

Because really, the two sides negotiating as if the gap is un-breachable, are not that far apart! Oh, there are differences — (see the “fiscal cliff calculator” at the Washington Post website to find out what the fiscal cliff means for you, and I use the metaphor again and again because it’s really searchable because we’re all using it! Oh, STOP, STOP! I’m faaaaaalllllling!).

Back to facts. There are differences — under the Republican plan, those in the lower tax brackets pay more, and those in the upper tax brackets pay less. But the differences are not that profound, except politically. And that’s what’s testing the leadership on either side — how to negotiate those political differences without hurting the country.

Negotiation: this test of leadership is win-win and lose-lose in the same breath!

This is a hard moment for people in leadership positions, on either side. They have to step out of their comfort zones, alienate their constituencies, break tax promises, and face a reality that’s rather grim, unless we compromise — and then that reality remains difficult. Everyone has to sacrifice for everyone to get closer to solvency.

That’s why negotiation is such a test of leadership. Leaders with power sit at the table, give and receive, and what we all end up with makes our imaginary solutions seem really wonderful, however impossible they were. The first steps out of a crisis rarely feel win-win, because with every win there’s also a sacrifice.

That’s why this budget deadline debate is so important — not only will it set in motion new fiscal policies, but it will also demonstrate how skillful — or dogmatic — our leaders really are.

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