Negotiation Lessons for the Rest of Us (DC Brinksmanship – Part 2)

Experience may be the best teacher in many arenas, but negotiation is a wicked learning environment. The problem is poor feedback. Even when you reach agreement, it’s hard to know whether you got a great deal or left money on the table. Likewise, if you’re stalemated, it could be that no deal was possible or that you over-played your hand.

After all, you only know your half of the story. You can’t know what might have happened if you had taken a different path by being (pick one) more patient, forceful, creative, or accommodating. Learning from other people’s experience—successful or otherwise—is all the harder if you weren’t at the bargaining table yourself.

That’s why I’m skeptical about much of the instant analysis about the recent debt-ceiling crisis. Yes, the economic costs of the government shutdown were huge. And yes, we want our elected leaders to avoid a repeat. But those of us who were bystanders should be cautious about making judgments before we have a better sense of what has happening behind the scenes.