Carter: Lessons in Compromise and Negotiation

Henry Clay crafted the Great Compromise of 1850 and the lessons from the document can be applied by today's leaders.


Many times people misread a situation while they are negotiating a compromise. Research has shown that less-than-adequate compromises are often the result of errors made when those making the deal fail to realize that they might actually share certain things in common with the other side.  Let me suggest that in these situations there are certain aspects of the negotiation which are attuned with those of the other party. By failing to realize this they end up settling for agreements which give them far less than they should have received.

Let me suggest to you that better outcomes can often be achieved by folks who engage in a careful investigation of both parties' interests, especially if done prior to, or early in the process of negotiations.  You need to know who and what you are dealing with during any negotiating session.  It is like the old saying which states that a lawyer never asks a question for which he does not already have the answer. 

Think about it my friends.  Do you not engage in negotiations every time your fire department creates a committee or asks for input on a problem?  Have you ever been a member of your department's by-laws committee?  I cannot tell how many concessions have been made in pursuit of new policies, procedures, and operational guidelines in my many decades in the fire service.

The key is to know exactly what you wish to achieve.  There is the core issue of what you seek to attain.  Then there are the other nice-to-have things which you feel could make things better for your agency which you might get.  Negotiate in good faith.  Do not lie or seek to deceive others.  In this way you can put your ideas forward in an honest and straightforward manner.

Let me suggest that it is critical for you to have a good idea about what the other person wishes to achieve.  Let me also suggest that if you and that personal can somehow manage to hit the sweet spot, where you both get most of what you want and they can get most of what they want, then that is a good thing.  This will involve a bit of research and intelligence gathering on your part.  I also recommend a large dose of listening to what is going on around you. 

Never enter a negotiating session with a 'my-way-or-the-highway' attitude.  Put your ideas forward and listen to the other side's position.  You must sense what the other person is seeking to accomplish and then relate your position to theirs.  The key is to work to achieve as much as you can before you reach the tipping point.  This is the point at which the other side shuts down and becomes unwilling to flex; or you shut down yourself. 

It may be that you cannot come to an agreement in the initial meeting.  As the old saying goes, 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' Do not say things which will anger and turn off the other side.  If need be suggest that you would like some time to study the issue and the come back for another meeting.  The keys to success are patience and discipline.  The other side may try to provoke you into losing your temper.  I have seen this is a negotiating ploy.  Do not fall for it. 

The key is to keep listening and keep talking.  If one side leaves the negotiating table, nothing positive can occur.  Let me assure you that negotiating a compromise is never an easy undertaking.  But success can be rewarding.

Lastly, never leave the table in anger.  Should the either side choose to do this, be the calm one and do not make things worse.  When tempers cool down, always be willing to return to the table for more talks.  Be willing to extend the olive branch of peace.  Always take the high road and do not throw any rocks at the other side's arguments. 

Compromise and conciliation are not easy things to accomplish. However, your labors can bear fruits which will better serve all in your organization.  Please give it a chance.  And if you have the opportunity, please share this with your member of Congress.  These are the folks who could profit greatly from the lessons in this commentary.  Anyway, it is time to head back out to the front porch for another cigar to celebrate my ability to put my thoughts in front of your eyes.  Take care and stay safe.