DC Brinksmanship – Part 1: Deadlines, deadlocks, and negotiation dynamics

Work, they say, expands to fill time available. So does negotiation. Lawsuits often settle on the courthouse steps. Some strikes aren’t averted until the eleventh hour. Disputing parties may not back down until they are just about to suffer the full cost of non-agreement.

As Samuel Johnson observed, there’s nothing like the prospect of a hanging to concentrate one’s mind.

The problem is compounded when groups have unrealistic expectations and myopic viewpoints. Their own representatives at the bargaining table may know that compromise will come eventually, yet be unable to sell half-a-loaf solutions to their constituents if there’s still time for more haggling. Hardliners on each side will say, “Whatever those other guys are willing to accept today, they’re bound to give us more tomorrow.”