Anatomy of a negotiation

The “fiscal cliff” negotiations of the last couple of months present an interesting case study showing the stages of negotiation usually necessary to make a deal. Congress set the process in motion more than a year ago with a budget agreement that essentially forced the two parties to make this deal by the January 1 deadline, otherwise a set of consequences would take effect that neither side wanted.

That created a situation not unlike the typical lawsuit, in which the court sets a trial date that will force both sides to incur substantial cost and risk, an event the parties can only avoid by making a deal that neither side views as optimal, but that is usually better for both sides than the alternative. To get to that point, however, parties often need to pass through a series of stages not unlike the Kubler-Ross model of the stages people usually go through to enable them to face the inevitability of death.

I wrote a series of posts on my mediation blog over the past couple of months, outlining as they took place the steps the parties followed to arrive at the negotiated agreement Congress just passed on January 1, 2013.

I.   Openings – the parties make unrealistic opening offers and demands.

II.  Impasse – negotiations break down in the middle stages.

III. Plan B –  the parties explore the alternatives to a negotiated agreement.

IV. End game –  the parties finally abandon previously inviolable positions.

V.  Who won? – the post-mortem.

This negotiation, led by the White House, but mainly between the Democratic and Republican leadership of the House and Senate, took a few surprising twists and turns, but in the end followed a familiar pattern to a predictable result.

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