Is Negotiation A Tool For Bridging our Current Partisan Political Divide?

May 5, 2017 By Irma Tyler Wood

I’m departing from my “Negotiation Lessons,” series this month to comment on the state of our political negotiation process. I’ll return to the regular format next month. 

If you’ve staked your reputation on doing everything you can to stop the other party, is it possible to negotiate any agreement about anything?  Can the Freedom Caucus ever agree with the more moderate wing of the Republican Party, let alone the Progressive Democrats in Congress?  Can these very divided, partisan groups ever hope to negotiate any type of agreement about anything, even if negotiating an agreement is good for the security or prosperity of the Country and it’s citizens?  This is the question many Americans are asking with increasing despair.  Are we due for four more years of gridlock with a do nothing Congress?

The answer is yes, unless the parties use a different negotiation sequence and process:

  1. Before trying to negotiate anything of substance, build a working relationship first.  A working relationship doesn’t mean you have to like each other, play golf together or agree on all the issues of the day.  It does mean you have to establish a relationship based on common interests and goals and work to establish trust, mutual respect and the ability to have candid, open communication.  Trust can be built, rebuilt, and repaired.  Agree on safeguards, incentives or penalties for mutual protection until trust can be established. 
  2. Negotiate a common vocabulary and process for how you will negotiate.  The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect different results.  The negotiation process Congress currently uses is badly broken.  Congress needs a new, more effective, more efficient negotiation process, Ki ThoughtBridge can teach them such a process.
  3. Use a neutral facilitator to help the parties establish criteria for deciding when they will and when they won’t collaborate, identify and deal with “Red Flags” and “Elephants” and establish clear ground rules for negotiation. 
  4. Voters of every hue and ideology, must pressure their elected representatives to get concrete work accomplished and hold them accountable with their votes when they don’t.  It should not be acceptable to either Democrat or Republican citizens to hear, “We stopped the other party”.  The report card we issue should list concrete accomplishments or they don’t get our votes.  This last item has to happen in tandem with the first three.  Some would argue that this has to happen first, but that argument assumes there are no leaders in Congress with courage and integrity.  I am not making that assumption.