Happy New Year! I hope that everyone’s 2023 is full of joy, happiness, peace and prosperity…. and brings an end to this pandemic!

Over the last few days, the House of Representatives has been voting for a new Speaker. As I write this, it appears that Rep. Kevin McCarthy will again  lose on the 11th vote  being taken. (First time in 164 years it has gone to ten ballots and beyond!)

Watching this play out reminds me of Negotiation 101 and some basic terms. (The following definitions are being taken from Lewicki, Roy J., Saunders, David M.,  and Barry,  Barry, The Essentials of Negotiation,  7th ed., (McGraw-Hill, New York  2021) ).

The first thing to ponder is what type of negotiation is Rep. McCarthy having with his opponents: is it distributive  bargaining– which is also known as competitive or win-lose bargaining or zero -sum game? (Id. at 26.) In such bargaining, “… the goals of one party are usually  in fundamental and direct  conflict with  the goals of the other party. Resources are fixed and limited and both parties want to maximize their share.” (Id.)  Each party will usually do the utmost to guard information and keep it close to the vest. (Id. at 27.) Distributive bargaining is often termed “claiming value” which is “… to do whatever is necessary to claim the reward, gain the lion’s share of the prize or gain the largest piece possible.” (Id. at 14.)

In a distributive bargaining situation, a party will usually have a  target  point  or “… the point at which a negotiator would like to conclude the negotiations- his optimal goal” (Id. at 27.) Here  Rep. McCarthy’s target point is the Speakership.  The next term is resistance point  which  is “… the price beyond which [a negotiator] will not go… a negotiator’s bottom line.” (Id.)  It is also sometimes called the reservation point.(Id.) Here, it appears that Rep. McCarthy has no resistance  or reservation point as the news commentators continually  note that he has been making concession after concession (so far to no avail) to win  enough votes  to win the Speakership.

The only way Rep. McCarthy will gain the Speakership is if he and his opponents are in a zone of potential agreement (ZOPA) which is the spread between his bottom line or reservation point (the most he  is willing to concede) and the reservation point of his opponents ( or the least they are willing to accept.)  (Id. at 29.)   If there is no common ground between them, Rep. McCarthy will fail.(For example, if the least that party 1 is willing to accept is $100 and the most that party 2 is willing to pay is $150- then the ZOPA is the $50 between $100 and $150!)

At which point, he should also be considering his BATNA or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. That is, what he will do if he is unable to reach agreement with his opponents. (Id. at 29.) Or, as some may call it- Plan B.  So far, it seems that McCarthy has no BATNA or Plan B. (He may also want to think about his WATNA or Worst  Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.)(Id. at 29-30.) Such WATNA may include the demise of his political career since he expended all of his political capital on trying to win the Speakership.

Some may wonder whether the ongoing  negotiating  is actually integrative  – one  that “allows both sides to achieve their objectives.“(Id. at 58.) In such bargaining, the “… goals of the parties… are not mutually exclusive. If one side achieves its goals, the other is not precluded from achieving its goals as well. One party’s gain is not at the other party’s expense.” (Id.) Here, the parties will hold discussions and engage in “mutual exploration” which, “ will often suggest alternatives where both parties can gain. “(Id.) Integrative bargaining is also termed “creating value” – “that is, to find a way for all parties to meet their objectives, either by identifying more resources, or finding unique ways to share and coordinate the use of existing resources.” (Id at 14.)

In truth, like most negotiations, the negotiation for the Speakership is both- distributive and integrative- claiming value and creating value.  If this negotiation is typical- it has been going back and forth between being distributive and integrative so that the opposition gets as much of the day to day power as is possible but at the same time McCarthy gets what he wants- the Speakership.  This is probably what is going on in all of those closed door- behind the scenes- negotiations. Figuring out how both sides can get what they want and thus “win” the negotiations.)

My only question is whether Rep. McCarthy will concede so much that in effect he will be a Speaker without power.  As he appears to have no reservation or resistance point, (that is, a point at which he walks away and the  Republicans go to Plan B), this is a very real possibility.

… Just something to think about.


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