Friday, September 7, 2012

"Coming To An Agreement"

“Person A” wants something.  “Person B” wants the same thing.  Where “Person A” and “Person B” differ, however, is over the process by which the thing “Person A” and “Person B” both want to happen

Will happen. 

“Person A” and “Person B” hash it over, and in the end, the thing that they both want to happen ultimately happens. 

How did that happen?

One way it could happen is through compromise.  To insure that the thing they both want to happen happens, “Person A” and “Person B” both give a little, and as a result of these mutual accommodations, the thing they both want to happen finally happens.

Compromise is standard negotiating procedure.  (Except in the current Congress, where, if you compromise, you lose your job and have to return to the “Private Sector”, where, though you proclaim loudly in Congress that the “Private Sector” is the primary engine of job creation, there are no jobs.) 

Overall, compromise is generally effective.  The loss of pride involved in not getting it all is outweighed by the satisfaction that the two sides were able to get the thing they both wanted to happen to happen. 

Grownups, hammering out a solution.  As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing.”

There is, however – and an example from personal experience follows almost immediately – a situation in which the negotiating parties speak complete nonsense to each other, but in the end, the thing that both people wanted to happen also happens. 

How do two adversaries speaking nonsense to each other make the thing they both want to happen happen?  It happens because, in the name of the thing that both sides want to happen happening, “Person A” and “Person B” – without saying so out loud or acknowledging it with a wink or a nod– tacitly agree that the nonsense they have spoken to each other was not, in fact, nonsense, but actual, reasonable, (mutually satisfying)


I think something of this nature occurred in the housing sector of our economy up till 2008, when it stopped.  People made deals that, on closer scrutiny, were premised on actuarial nonsense.  But since they found personal advantage in those deals, the people involved pretended that that they weren’t.

The “bubble” exploded, when the reality of the situation began to surface, revealing the truth about these deals, the truth being that

Those deals were based on mutually agreed-upon nonsense.

I am listening to a book-on-tape on this subject called Freefall by Joseph Stiglitz, but, since my mind wanders when I listen to it on the treadmill, I miss whole chunks of explanation – which in truth I may not have fully understood if I were sitting quietly in a chair.  I will now segue to firmer ground with the personal example I had previously drumrolled. 

The following is an example of a negotiation that took place in which two people who wanted the same thing wound up getting what they wanted, but only after speaking nonsense to each other, and pretending that it wasn’t.

I am writing syndicated on a talk/variety series made in Canada called Everything Goes.  They are shooting a hundred ninety-minute shows in three months, and since lot of time needs to be filled on a shoestring budget, among other cost-cutting measures, the producers must tighten the purse strings when paying for talent.

One way to deal with this “limited money” issue is to invite someone like me (not famous, not expensive) to perform on the show.  They want me to provide some form of comedy on ten of their hundred episodes.

In preparation for my negotiation, I ask to Don Cullen, a contracted comedian on the show, how much he is being paid.  Don tells me he is receiving two hundred and fifty dollars per performance.  I go into the negotiation, therefore, knowing that another performer is getting two hundred and fifty bucks a show.

The producer, whose name is Norman, says he wants me to perform on Everything Goes, and I enthusiastically say fine with me.  (It is in this regard that both of us want the same thing.)

Norman informs me that it’s the show’s policy to only pay “scale” (a union minimum) to their performers.  That “scale”, I am aware, is a hundred and sixty-three dollars.  It is, therefore, immediate that I realize that Norman is lying to me, since Don Cullen has told me he is getting two-fifty.

There were no agents involved here; it was just me Norman v. me, an experienced producer/negotiator versus a neophyte who has never negotiated anything in his life.  A mismatch?  I would readily agree.  (That’s why they have agents.)

And yet for some reason, maybe because I didn’t care whether I performed on the show, I stuck stubbornly to my guns.

I tell Norman I want two-fifty, or I’m not doing the show.

Norman holds firm, (lyingly) repeating that the show’s policy did not allow him to pay any performer more than “scale.”  Norman explains that if he deviated from that arrangement and it became common knowledge, everyone would demand more than “scale”, and it would break the show’s budgetary bank.

I tell Norman not to worry.  We could keep this negotiation to ourselves.

Norman dismisses my assurance of confidentiality and returns to his “mantra”:

“We only pay ‘scale’.”

Very quickly, our negotiation grew repetitious and tiresome, the two of us hewing unswervingly to our positions.  Finally, frustrated, which in situations of this nature – being in over my head – makes me silly, I facetiously break the logjam.

“Here’s an idea”, I suggest, about to speak total nonsense, if only to lighten the mood.  “Find a ‘scale’ that’s two hundred and fifty dollars, and pay it to me.”

“Done!” replies Norman, entirely seriously.

And the negotiation is consummated.

Norman and I shook hands, and that was that.  We had both gotten what we wanted, which was for me to appear on the show.  And neither of us lost face.  How did this “win-win” situation eventualize?  Through the medium of nonsense – me demanding a “scale” that was two hundred and fifty dollars (which did not exist) and Norman happily agreeing, (though he was also aware it did not exist.) 

How many other successful negotiations – in business, in politics, in courtroom plea agreements, in interpersonal relationships, to name just four – adhere to the same totally illogical “rabbit hole” template?  I suggest, a lot of them.

And why do we anaesthetize ourselves into believing they make sense?

Because they work.

I know, Italics Man.  But they are constructed entirely out of sand.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; to delude others, first you must delude yourself.


Alan said...

79Norman, of course, had put himself into an impossible situation at the beginning of the negotiation by declaiming that he only paid scale… he couldn’t move from that position. He may have assumed that you, the neophyte, would, a) not have done your due diligence (talking to Don) or, b) have wanted the gig so much you would have taken anything.
He was wrong on both counts.
You, of course, could have moved from your position at any time.
He was looking for a face-saving position that he couldn’t propose himself. You saved the day, and got a very nicely performed gig, if my memory serves…which sometimes it does.