I have to admit that I haven’t read President Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” but—having completed over a thousand business negotiations myself—I’ve admired his negotiating ability for years. I’ve not always admired the man. However, the more I see his flaws, the more I’m actually impressed with his negotiating skills.
Years ago, when I was starting out in business, I was often frustrated by my inability to get things done. I brought in pages of research with numbers and documentation, proved I had the right answer, and yet was often ignored. I eventually asked the advice of a friend who had started a successful business. He recommended Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I was skeptical, but I bought this short, easy-to-read book and dove into it. Every chapter was just common sense, but I realized I was abandoning common sense when I negotiated.
One of these commonsense rules was that you can’t negotiate by insulting the other party. You need to boost the ego of the other party, make them feel like a partner not an adversary. It doesn’t mean that you give in to them; it means that you want them to feel good afterwards, like they came out ahead. This is a key for long-term success, not short-term gain.
I started applying these principles and started seeing many more successes than failures.
Trump praises his negotiating partner but starts with a very demanding offer that will probably be rejected. It’s a starting point not an end goal of the negotiation. And he negotiates from a position of strength. Reagan was famous for doing this—all negotiators should know this, but many don’t. Except during his election campaigns, Reagan didn’t do much to knock down his image in the press as a wild cowboy (or simultaneously a senile old man) with his finger on the nuclear trigger. That’s the kind of person others don’t even want to negotiate with, so Reagan tended to get better deals, too.
Now it’s time for the Democrats to negotiate with regard to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. I hear complaints from Democrats that the Republicans are hypocrites. After all, in 2016 they wouldn’t hold a hearing on Obama’s pick Merrick Garland, complaining that it was too close to an election—11 months. Now, with less than 2 months to go, the Republicans are holding a hearing and a vote.
What these Democrats choose to ignore, is that in 2016, the Democrats were emphatic that it’s a sitting president’s duty to immediately install a new justice to the court. Perhaps President Trump and the Republicans are simply recognizing the truth of the argument that the Democrats made so strenuously four years ago.
What’s really happening? This is a negotiation. All parties in a negotiation look after their own interests, and press the issues to their own advantage, preferably within the constraints of legality and morality. They may make all kinds of excuses, but the truth is that the Republicans had the power in 2016, having control of the Senate, and they have it again now with control of the presidency too.
With Never-Trumpers like Republicans Mitt Romney on board, and Republican “moderates” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on the fence, the Democrats have little chance of stopping Judge Barrett’s nomination.
The Democrats need to realize that they are, in fact, negotiating not with the Republicans, because they’ve already lost that negotiation, but with the American public. They need to convince Americans that Joe Biden will provide something better in return for their vote. But part of that deal must be reflected in how they treat Judge Barrett. If they treat her like they treated Brett Kavanaugh, they will strengthen their base, but lose the crucial moderates. And whether they want to admit it or not, women and men are different. While you might be able to get away with destroying the reputation of a man, few people with sympathize if they do it to a woman.
The lesson is that you can win by being tough, but not by attacking the people with whom you’re negotiating. We’ll soon see who understands this better, and who is the more successful negotiator, Biden or Trump.