Brooks on the Art of Political Compromise

Sometimes, as Robert Mnookin puts it, you have to “bargain with the devil.” David Brooks offers a primer on the challenges of political (and diplomatic) leadership.  For example, how do you deal with people who believe in their bones something different from your side?

The craftsman has to accept the hard reality that the other side also believes these things. It is extremely unlikely that one side will convince the other, or the country. The craftsman can hope for some final ideological victory, but he can’t realistically expect one.

Given that reality, then how do you know when to make the smart compromise:

Fifth, the craftsman has to distinguish between existential issues and business issues. Winston Churchill would have made a terrible mistake if he had compromised with the appeasers. On the other hand, Dan Rostenkowski and Robert Packwood were absolutely right to compromise to get the tax reform of 1986 passed.

The craftsman has to understand that in the middle of the fight almost every issue will feel like an existential issue, though, in reality, 98 percent of legislative conflicts are business issues.

Diplomacy and politics work in similar ways.  They are based on relationships–not the smarmy kinds that you read about in self-help or leadership books.  Brooks has a great way of expressing this:

Seventh, the craftsman has to be socially promiscuous. Deal-making is about friendship. The craftsman has to work on relationships all day every day. It’s not enough to talk to your adversaries in negotiations. You have to talk to them when nothing is happening. You have to talk to them when they are up, when they are down. You have to celebrate their anniversaries and birthdays.

via Rules for Craftsmen – NYTimes.com.

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3 thoughts on “Brooks on the Art of Political Compromise

  1. emilylheath says:

    I really enjoyed this analysis of a diplomat. As humans we all have opinions and all disagree in some areas. Obviously these disagreements can become much more heated and important when in an international arena. Nevertheless, I believe that the ability to be a good diplomat begins at the individual level. I don’t doubt that there are many diplomats may agree with another state’s position while not liking their officials; oppositely, it is quite possible to despise another country for its actions but get along well with its people. As we look back through history at good diplomats, it all comes down to personality. Sure, it’s important to know what’s going on politically and to be smart, but no socially impaired leader ever earned widespread respect. To be respected doesn’t necessarily mean to be liked. This forces diplomats to walk a fine line as the teeter between giving in too much and alienating their allies and their enemies.

    In my opinion a good diplomat is one who can agree to disagree while still maintaining healthy relationships. Good diplomats are the ones who always have a smile on in the newspaper pictures and who represent their state in the classiest way possible. Good diplomats know how to say no and won’t ever compromise on the fundamental issues that define their state. Good diplomats are the ones who know who other diplomats are, what they stand for, what to look out for, and who to make friends with. It may turn out to be a show, but oftentimes life is a show for all of us (…especially in politics). Sometimes the best way to get your way is to be the good guy.

    As this article form the NYT points out, great diplomats know how to lead. They aren’t hidden by the shadows of the past, but are known by many. Diplomats who can make a name for themselves internationally are few and far between. Despite the difficulty of being acknowledged, the impact of those special diplomats are immense, perhaps changing people’s perspectives, which is a diplomat’s ultimate goal.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/opinion/brooks-the-follower-problem.html?_r=0

  2. cpesci says:

    I, too, enjoyed this article. The fact is that in negotiations, we will never be able to meet the full demands and desires of every individual involved. There has to be compromise, and an accord must be reached where each party feels their needs have been met. Reaching an accord is an art; that is why I like how he calls those who embark on negotiation endeavors,”Craftsmen.”

    I am very interested by negotiations that take place between professional sports franchises and athletes. There are always negotiations that take place in the realm of sports. They can be discussions over new conditions of a player’s contract, signing a free agent, making a trade, collective bargaining agreements between players’ associations and the leagues, referee deals, etc. I looked for articles that discussed how these transactions take place and I found one that explains the traits of sports “craftsmen” and what principles they abide by when making deals. workings of a sports deals. I was pleased to see that there were a lot of similarities; this is something that leads me to believe that most negotiation etiquette and skill is universal.

    I capitalized the traits that the sports article discusses and matched a definition of them with the article from the New York Times.

    TRUST – “Seventh, the craftsman has to be socially promiscuous. Deal-making is about friendship. The craftsman has to work on relationships all day every day. It’s not enough to talk to your adversaries in negotiations. You have to talk to them when nothing is happening. You have to talk to them when they are up, when they are down. You have to celebrate their anniversaries and birthdays.”

    MUTUAL GAIN – “The craftsman has to accept the hard reality that the other side also believes these things. It is extremely unlikely that one side will convince the other, or the country. The craftsman can hope for some final ideological victory, but he can’t realistically expect one.”

    CONVINCE YOUR SIDE TO MAKE CONCESSIONS – “Eighth, the craftsman has to betray his side. It is relatively easy to cut a deal with the leader of the other party. It is really hard to sell that deal to the rigid people in your own party. Therefore, the craftsman has to enter into a conspiracy with the other party’s leader in order to manipulate the party bases. The leaders have to invent stories so that each base thinks it has won.”

    NEGOTIATE FOR LONG TERM – “The craftsman has to understand that these distant fantasies almost never come true. It is usually better to make a small step next month than do nothing in hopes of a total victory next generation.”

    http://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/negotiation-skills-daily/robert-krafts-negotiation-skills-helped-to-end-nfl-lockout/

  3. codyknudsen says:

    I think this article is very important given the U.S.s’ current political stagnation. The ten characteristics or rules of craftsmen that he pushes for are all important in accomplishing one’s goals in the long-run. Especially important, in my opinion, is the realization that people from the opposite viewpoint can believe as strongly in their position as you believe in yours and the differentiation between existential issues and business issues. I feel like the current political climate there is no room for thinking that people of the opposite political belief are any less than stupid or evil. America is in need of real craftsmen, real statesmen who can look beyond party lines, the class warfare, the march of communism, and the intolerance of any other worldview. Without these new leaders, the U.S. plunges toward mediocrity in the world.

    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-06-18/u-dot-s-dot-lawmakers-head-to-exits-as-partisanship-trumps-legislating

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