Category Archives: negotiation

Pascal on Persuasion

We learn from the 17th Century physics and philosopher, Blaise Pascal that when it comes to the art of persuasion, “slipping through backdoor of [someone’s] beliefs” is a surefire way to change minds. (Thanks, Brain Pickings).

In his book, Pensées , he writes:

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In other words…use their words to your advantage. (If this sounds like one of the classic definitions of diplomacy, you may be right.)

Put simply, Pascal suggests that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord. Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says both these points hold true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Source: To tell someone they’re wrong, first tell them how they’re right — Quartz

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What Axelrod and the Prisoner’s Dilemma Teaches about Human Nature

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We ran the Harvard Program on Negotiation case whose dull title (“Oil Pricing Exercise”) belies the fireworks that tend to erupt in a Prisoner’s Dilemma simulation. It was the first time that I have used this version and it seems to be an extended version of my preferred one hour version–with the benefit of drawing out the negotiations for up to three hours, although the students didn’t seem to take it as seriously as we hoped.

The case is historically exemplified by the Cuban Missile Crisis (another case that I run midway during the semester). A few of the key issues that always emerge in discussions and case debriefs include:

  • trust, and the dissolution of it as the exercise progresses
  • conflict styles and strategies
  • dealing with escalation (e.g., self-fulfilling prophecy, entrapment)
  • “defecting” (e.g., backstabbing–with its ethical and tactical implications)

In the case debriefing I read about Robert Axelrod at the Ford School (University of Michigan) who ran a computer simulations, which was something new that I hadn’t heard about previously.

In 1980, Robert Axelrod, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, held a tournament of various strategies for the prisoner’s dilemma. He invited a number of well-known game theorists to submit strategies to be run by computers. In the tournament, programs played games against each other and themselves repeatedly. Each strategy specified whether to cooperate or defect based on the previous moves of both the strategy and its opponent.

via CS.Stanford.edu

The result was Axlerod’s “Tit for Tat” strategy, recommended in the Harvard Case debriefing notes, which recommends choosing to cooperate initially and then follow the opponent’s previous move for the remainder of the game. Much was made of Axelrod’s computer simulation–even though his conclusions the source of ongoing discussion.

You can find critics. Ken Binmore, author of Playing Fair: Game Theory and the Social Contract, takes issue with any strategy that removes human proclivity for evil:

In brief, the simulation data on which Axelrod supposedly bases his conclusions about the evolution of norms is woefully inadequate, even if one thought that his Norms Game were a good representation of the Game of Life in which real norms actually evolve. One simply cannot get by without learning the underlying theory. Without any knowledge of the theory, one has no way of assessing the reliability of a simulation and hence no idea of how much confidence to repose in the conclusions that it suggests. It does not follow that the conclusions on norms and other issues which Axelrod offers in his Complexity of Cooperation are without value. He is, after all a clever man who knows the literature of his own subject very well. But I do not think one can escape the conclusion that the evidence from computer simulations that he offers in support of his ideas has only rhetorical value. His methodology may table some new conjectures that are worth exploring. But such conjectures can only be evaluated in a scientific manner by running properly controlled robustness tests that have been designed using a knowledge of the underlying theory.

via JASSS (book review)

Even so, Axelrod’s strategy has been useful and has attracted attention from evolutionary biology (Joshua Plotkin) and the guys at RadioLab, who wondered about altruism and global strategy. (Listen to the entire story, below, for an amusing retelling). The takeaway? We can see how an Old Testament, “eye for an eye” mentality came from biology and has an evolutionary (and mathematical) basis for understanding human experience.

https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolab/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F104010%2F

The Khan Academy has its own version of a Prisoner’s Dilemma lecture, if you prefer an old-school refresher on the the MOOC lecture.

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Inside Negotiations for a Bipartisan Immigration Deal

A great article by Alec MacGillis in the NYT Magazine on how the Republicans and Democrats came together after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama–with a historic window to negotiate an immigration deal. Who were the players. How did the deal come together. And how it fell apart.

Three years ago, the G.O.P.-led Housewas close to reaching a compromise on immigration — one that might haveneutralized the issue for the 2016 election.This is the inside story of what went wrong.

Source: How Republicans Lost Their Best Shot at the Hispanic Vote – The New York Times

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‘Gaps of Trust’ With Russia Bar a Syrian Truce, Obama Says 

Have you ever participated in a “trust fall” exercise? If so, you get the point–trusting your partners is important. It appears that trust doesn’t really exist much between the US and Russia–and that has big implications for the ongoing Syrian civil war.

“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation, and we haven’t yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work,” Mr. Obama declared at a news conference at the end of a Group of 20 summit meeting in Hangzhou, China.He did not describe the points of contention. Other officials have said they involve technical issues like how to staff checkpoints in combat areas. But the checkered history of Syrian cease-fires — the United States agreed to one with Russia in February, only to watch it unravel weeks later — has left the president deeply leery.

Source: ‘Gaps of Trust’ With Russia Bar a Syrian Truce, Obama Says – The New York Times

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Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

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Howard Raiffa, a Father of Decision Science

Leadership and diplomacy involve making decisions at various levels.

Founder of the Kennedy School of Government. Negotiation expert. Decision science scholar.

You may not have heard about Howard Raiffa, but he is considered a foundational scholar, leader, and teacher who made decision theory and negotiation accessible and important to the organizational practitioner. He is also a key figure in the development of games and simulations to teach key concepts and to apply them in practice.

His first book, Games and Decisions (1957) introduced game theory. Other notable publications include The Art and Science of Negotiation (1982), Smart Choices (1998), and Negotiation Analysis (2003).

The best practical advice, Professor Raiffa wrote, is “to maximize your expected payoff, which is the sum of all payoffs multiplied by probabilities.” He explained that “the art of compromise centers on the willingness to give up something in order to get something else in return.”“Successful artists,” he added, “get more than they give up.”

Source: Howard Raiffa, Mathematician Who Studied Decision Making, Dies at 92 – The New York Times

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The Rhetoric of Brexit

The rhetoric behind Brexit (or Bremain) got heated–right up to the wire. Nazis and Hates Facts. As a thoughtful Greek, Aristotle may not have been proud–but he would have understood what was happening, as Sam Leith points out in FT:

The main problem both sides have is that they are arguing about what will happen in the future — economically, with regard to trade deals, security and migration. Nobody knows the answer: there are no hard data. The future, as the great man’s compatriot Nana Mouskouri once sang, is not ours to see.

The most respectable member of Aristotle’s triad of rhetorical tools — logos, or formal argument — is a little stymied as a result. So we have fallen back on ethos and pathos: appeals to personality and authority, and to emotion.

But to simplify the persuasive brief for each side, we might conclude the following:

Taken together with the economic warnings, the whole approach of the Conservative Party Remainers to the referendum can be summed up in the concluding lines of G.K. Chesterton’s sorry tale of Jim, the boy who ran away and got eaten by a lion:

Always keep ahold of Nurse

For fear of finding something worse.

For the Labour Party, the problem is a little different. Their job is to convince their core voters, many of whom are inclined to support Leave, that the EU provides essential protection for workers’ rights and welfare state institutions that would otherwise come under threat from a Conservative government. But it is difficult to make this argument without sounding defeatist. Does Britain’s labor movement no longer have the strength and self-confidence to mount the defense on its own, without help from European bureaucrats? Is the Labour Party conceding that it is never going to govern Britain again? When Yvette Cooper, a leading figure in the party, argued the Remain case on television, she was gently reminded by her Conservative opponent, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, that the National Health Service and the other parts of the welfare state had been brought into existence single-handedly by Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government, unaided by any European institutions. This is a painful reminder of the power that parliamentary sovereignty once gave to parties of the left as well as of the right.

Source: Win or Lose, the Brexit Vote Shows How Hard It Is to Defend the EU | Foreign Policy

 

Worth Reading

The “romantic” and “distorted” language of campaigners who want Britain to leave the EU | QZ.com

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Must See: OSLO on secret negotiations

This new play at Lincoln Center Theater by J.T. Rogers explores the nexus of back channel diplomacy with “impeccable sources for his imagined history

He explains how the play emerged through a meeting with the then UN special envoy for Lebanon and his wife, Terje Rod-Larsen and the deputy permanent representative and Ambassador for Norway to the UN, Mona Juul.

In that bar, Mr. Larsen explained that he and his wife were intimately involved with the making of the Oslo Accords. I knew of the first-ever peace deal between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. I’ll never forget watching the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on television, Sept. 13, 1993 — seeing President Clinton preside over that historic handshake between the bitterest of enemies, Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, and Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. I already knew the joy and the rage that handshake caused around the world.

Then he told me something I did not know: that there was a clandestine diplomatic back channel that had made the accords possible. That without a handful of men and women — Israeli, Palestinian and Norwegian — working in secret to try to alter the political reality of two peoples, those accords never would have happened.

Source: ‘Oslo’ and the Drama in Diplomacy – The New York Times

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Best Apps for Public Speaking

Getting serious about improving your on-stage swagger? Take a look at these apps to address various aspects of your public speaking persona:

Ummo – Speak the speech and get some useful analytics such as time, word count, pace, volume, fillers and clarity. ($1.99, IOS)
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Virtual Speech’s Public Speaking for Cardboard uses VR to simulate your audition, TED Talk, interview, or toast–before it happens. (Free, IOS and Android)

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PromptSmart Pro – Ignore the Donald and setup your own speech recognition scrolling, voice tracking teleprompter. Only issue? Its expensive ($11.99, IOS)

 

Amber Light Speech Timer – Keeps you on time with changeable lights/buzzers, but stick with red, yellow and green. ($2, IOS, or see Toastmaster Timer, free, Android)

 

Keynote by Apple has the ability to connect with your laptop or iPad, allowing you to use your phone (or tablet) as a remote control, viewers, and speaker note viewer. (Apple Watch also has a remote that can control your Keynote or PowerPoint.)

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If the mere thought of speaking in front of a packed conference room makes your heart start pounding, there’s now a virtual reality app designed to help curb your fear. Virtual Speech lets users practice for upcoming speeches by putting them on stage or in the conference room (virtually).

More ideas? See: Now There’s a Virtual Reality App To Help With Public Speaking Anxiety | Mental Floss

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Neil Irwin on Campaigns as Simulations

Hiring used to be done by interviews, but technology firms and economic research have shown this to be an ineffective means for selecting people. So could the presidential political campaign–ups, downs, good and ugly–be the perfect sim for selecting a president?

Perhaps the ideal scenario would be to put Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders through a simulation in which they must jump between persuading a member of Congress to vote for a highway bill and conducting an arms control negotiation.

That won’t happen anytime soon. But in a weird way, we might be seeing a version of exactly that simulation.

What are the qualities it takes to be a successful president? He or she needs to be good at hiring and trusting the right people; making constant big decisions with limited information and often while exhausted; setting the right big picture strategy; and knowing when to stick with it as circumstances change and when to make tactical adjustments.

If you look at it that way, running a presidential campaign starts to look like exactly the kind of simulation of being president that our search committee needs to pick a president!

Source: Campaigns Are Long, Expensive and Chaotic. Maybe That’s a Good Thing. – The New York Times

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