Although I have taken many many hours of training about negotiation, none of them has really involved what we witnessed during the Presidential election: extreme negotiations.

In essence, both Mrs. Clinton and president-elect Trump were engaging in extreme negotiations with the American public in the hopes of becoming the 45th President of the United States.  The stakes and risk were especially high.

So, what is “extreme negotiations”? As explained by Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian and Jonathan Hughes in their initial article entitled “Extreme Negotiations”, they are “dangerous negotiations” in which the stakes may well “put intense pressure on a leader” (Id. at 2) to reach a satisfactory resolution quickly:

“…the perception of danger prompts business and military leaders to resort to the same kinds of behavior. Both commonly feel pressure to make rapid progress, project strength and control (especially when they have neither), rely on coercion rather than collaboration, trade resources for cooperation rather than get genuine buy-in, and offer unilateral concessions to mitigate possible threats.” (Id.)

 In such negotiations, the authors suggest five strategies that have proven to be highly effective:

  • Understand the Big Picture; solicit the other person’s or group’s point of view;
  • Uncover and Collaborate; learn the other party’s motivations and concerns and propose multiple solutions and invite improvements on them;
  • Elicit Genuine Buy-in; use principles of fairness rather than brute force to convince others;
  • Build Trust First; deal with the relationship issues head-on and make small changes to encourage trust and cooperation; and
  • Focus on Process; do not simply react to the other side but engage to move the process forward. (Id. at 2-14.)


In a subsequent article by Messrs. Weiss and Hughes entitled “Implementing Strategies in Extreme Negotiations “, the authors suggested seven elements to consider in implementing the above five strategies:

  • Think about each party’s interests;
  • Think about each party’s alternatives;
  • Brainstorm solutions;
  • Consider ways to legitimize the solutions;
  • Identify commitments that each party can make;
  • Analyze the relationships in play and how important they are; and
  • Plan your communication strategy.

(Id. at 3.)

Applying these strategies and elements to the recent election, one can readily see that each candidate was focused on “the Big Picture” -America- even though they each saw a “different” “Big Picture”. In looking at their respective views of the “Big Picture”, each gave great thought to the interests of all concerned. They explained to the American public what were the interests of the American public. In the words of Mrs. Clinton, it was epitomized by the slogan “Stronger Together” while in the words of Mr. Trump it was (and is) “Make America Great Again.”

Each candidate gave great thought to the alternatives, or in negotiation lingo- to their own BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and to their opponent’s BATNA. How many times was the American public essentially reminded that if the other party won, the world- as we know it (or words to this effect)- would come to an end?

Each candidate attempted to uncover and collaborate by brainstorming solutions. Mrs. Clinton did so by a “listening tour” at the start of her campaign by going around the country and simply listening to the public about its concerns. Mr. Trump did it more privately- by listening and talking to his advisors. If he did speak with the everyday citizen, the press did not emphasize it.

Each side sought to elicit genuine buy in and to build trust by appealing to fairness (In the words of Mr. Trump- the world should no longer take advantage of America while Mrs. Clinton argued that the middle class should obtain its fair share in every respect.) Each candidate looked for ways to legitimize their proposed solutions. They each cited facts or points they believed to be relevant on the given issue, be it terrorism, the budget, climate change, foreign policy, immigration et cetera. They each cited statistics and facts that each believed would sway the American public to agree (and thereby legitimize) their respective proposed solutions and to gain the trust of the American public. (Indeed, the press well noted repeatedly that Mrs. Clinton had a “trust” issue which may well have cost her the electoral college votes.)

And they certainly identified and made commitments to the public. While Mrs. Clinton proposed to reign in Wall Street and change the tax structure of the United States, Mr. Trump vowed to “build a wall and have the Mexicans pay for it” in addition to “cutting taxes”, “deporting all undocumented persons” and “repealing Obamacare. “

Both parties analyzed the relationships in play and their importance although to different degrees. Mrs. Clinton analyzed her relationship both with the American public and that of the United States with the world. With respect to the latter, she recognized that our economy is linked to the rest of the world; it is global in nature and that the United States must act as part of the entire world. In contrast, Mr. Trump took a more isolationist, distributive bargaining approach putting America First even to the detriment of our allies in NATO, and our trading partners in NAFTA and the rest of the world. (Indeed, let us not forget the possibility of a “huge” tariff on goods imported from China.)

And finally, each candidate definitely focused on the process by planning and implementing a communication and campaign strategy designed to win the election. While Mrs. Clinton used the more “old school” means of communications such as rallies, speeches before various groups, e mail blasts, web sites and posts, television, and press releases, Mr. Trump used not only these same means but made great use of Twitter limiting his quite succinct messages to 140 characters. While Mrs. Clinton aired any disagreements she may have had with Mr. Trump via the press, and at her rallies, again, used Twitter in the wee hours of the night to air his disagreements.

In sum- our recent election was, in essence, a display of extreme negotiations. It was a high stakes negotiation conducted under immense pressure for the ultimate of prizes; the presidency of the “most powerful nation in the world” or “the leader of the free world”. As each candidate engaged in this “dangerous negotiation” to a different degree, I will leave it to you to judge which of the two was the more extreme.

… Just something to think about!


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