Tag Archives: tactics

Inside the Mind of Sergei Lavrov

Russia’s top diplomat could take a number approaches in doing the job. In the case of Sergei Lavrov, despite his many successes, universal dislike and mistrust seems to be a constant companion, according to POLITICO’s Susan Glasser.

From two top Obama officials:

“He’s a nasty SOB. He would be relentlessly berating and browbeating and sarcastic and nasty. His job was to berate and beat and harass us and Secretary Kerry into conceding the Russian view. It wasn’t defeating America; it was that Russia can’t win if it has to compromise at all.”

“I don’t see him as zero-sum and suspicious of and averse to the West as Putin is,” said another former Obama official who sat in many meetings in recent years with Lavrov. “He believes more in at least tactical cooperation, at least in a broader context of strategic nonalignment. I think he did actually look for opportunities. I also think he plays to his bosses. So the extent to which he’s acerbic and nasty—that’s partly his personality and partly what he believes Putin and actual powers that be want to hear.”

Source: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance – POLITICO Magazine

Russia’s long game is becoming more readily apparent–and has been explored many times earlier–where it must turn weakness into strength.

“Free societies are often split because people have their own views, and that’s what former Soviet and current Russian intelligence tries to take advantage of,” Oleg Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general, who has lived in the United States since 1995, said. “The goal is to deepen the splits.” Such a strategy is especially valuable when a country like Russia, which is considerably weaker than it was at the height of the Soviet era, is waging a geopolitical struggle with a stronger entity.”

Source: Trump, Putin and the New Cold war – The New Yorker, Annals of Diplomacy, March 6, 2017 Issue

Lavrov is an essential diplomatic knight in this game.

In Glasser’s longer profile in FP,  she describes Russia’s “Minister No” as “no gray apparatchik” who dominated the Security Council, drank, “smoked like a chimney” and favorited Italian couture, even as he cites Prince Gorchakov as the Russian diplomatic model. Perhaps that is a key insight, where Russian nationalism drive the antagonism against the U.S., and is integrated into Lavrov’s diplomatic approach.

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Terry Gross on How to Talk to Anyone

Diplomats, salespeople, missionaries, and journalists all talk to people. Some do it better than others. But nobody does it as well as Terry Gross, the NRP interviewer par excellance–who kept me informed and entertained as I worked a painting conservation job in college, swabbing dirt inch-by-inch across a gigantic, room-filling canvas. Foam-covered 1980’s era headphones attached to a Sony AM/FM/cassette Walkman were my lifeline to a world of fascinating ideas and people, thanks to Gross.

So when I saw this piece by Susan Burton on the art and craft of WHYY in Philadelphia’s master interviewer I wanted to see what could be learned. One insight: it takes a lot of work (and a little luck) to get a “real moment” in a hard-earned conversation, and it can be uncomfortable:

When the interview ended, Gross and her producers asked themselves, ‘‘Are we going to keep that in the edit?’’ Yes, they decided: ‘‘Maybe there’s not a really satisfactory, conclusive answer,’’ but ‘‘it felt like a real moment.’’ Gross went on: ‘‘Even if the real moment isn’t somebody being really honest and forthcoming and introspective, a real moment of friction, a real moment of tension, is still a real moment.’’

Occasionally the ‘‘real moments’’ can be awkward for Gross. In July, in an interview with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gross began laughing in response to a story he told about being yelled at by a teacher. ‘‘See, it sounds like you’re laughing because, like, it’s funny if you’ve never been in the environment,’’ Coates said. Some on social media pegged Gross as a clueless white lady. But the exchange was constructive. Gross was simply reacting, and then listening as Coates explained his perception of her reaction. In doing so, he illuminated an experience of growing up in a culture of fear and violence.

Source: Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up – The New York Times

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This American Life “Cars” on Secret Sales Negotiations

One of the best listens this holiday break was an episode from This American Life that revealed the secret negotiating tactics from inside a Long Island auto dealerships–revealing everything you wanted to know about how to negotiate a car sale but were unable to find out.

The reality inside the dealership is much more complex than I would have guessed. As a customer, not only do you have to contend with the salespeople but they are in a multi-polar negotiation involving you, other customers, the manager/pit boss, and all up against hard deadlines, goals/quotas, inventory limitations, and a myriad of other obstacles. Overall I am not sure why this show was so surprising–but it is a lot of fun to consider the inside negotiations and human drama behind a dealership.

via Episode 513: “129 Cars” – bleeped | This American Life. (This bleeped version covers up the salty language used by car salespersons and is best for the classroom.)


Dealing with People in Authority

How should you deal with a more knowledgeable doctor, a defiant boss, or a police officer? Diplomats can take a page from advice provided to Mormon women at the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives to better understand how to respond effectively to others–including people in authority.

Maybe what Mormon women need is both a greater self-awareness of their own physical response to authority and a greater intellectual understanding of how to speak the language of authority. Then, upon interacting with authority figures, there will be less a sense of intimidation and more a sense of solidity and purpose.

The language of authority includes speaking in calm, purposeful tones. It includes eye contact. It includes a resolute determination that one’s own beliefs and actions are valuable, defensible, and even right. It includes carefully and genuinely listening to others’ ideas and then repeating one’s own argument — several times if necessary — even when others don’t agree. It includes being cognizant of one’s own sensations of honor, fear and intimidation and allowing those sensations to move through one’s self and then to dissipate so that one’s own position can again be clearly stated. It includes smiling and speaking to bishops and stake presidents and others who wield control over our lives with the same tones in which we’re accustomed to being spoken to. These men are our equals. Via FHM

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Friedman Games Out Middle East Peace Negotiations

How could we get from here to there in the Middle East?  Could Obama and Bibi leverage each other to push the process forward? Thomas Friedman thinks there is at least a possibility:

If these two leaders were to approach these two negotiations with a reasonably shared vision (and push each other), they could play a huge role in remaking the Middle East for the better, and — with John Kerry — deserve the Nobel Prize, an Emmy, an Oscar and the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

via Bibi and Barack, the Sequel – NYTimes.com.

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Critics on the Deal with Iran (Munich, redux?)

Is the newly-inked deal in Geneva a “historic mistake” as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu states or a “good deal” as Barak Ravid writes in Haaretz?  A thoughtful contrarian, Michael Rubin, makes the case that diplomacy with Iran creates a dangerous precedent:

He should not be so certain. Rather than prevent Iran’s nuclear breakout, historians may mark the Geneva deal as the step that most legitimized Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability.

Willing to deal is not synonymous with sincere desire to reach a comprehensive settlement. Key to successful reconciliation is truth, and there are many reasons to doubt Iranian intentions, none of which did the Geneva negotiators address. Iranian authorities say they seek nuclear technology to ensure domestic energy security, but as the Bipartisan Policy Center showed, Tehran could achieve that aim for a fraction of the cost and for decades, if not centuries, longer if it chose to invest instead in its pipeline and refinery infrastructure.

via Iran deal risks creating another North Korea – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

Israel makes an interesting bellwether on the issue. They are stuck in an unenviable position with several facets.

Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.

Do these alternate approaches to parallel issues that are crucial to Israel’s future amount to hopeless hypocrisy? Or are they simply a sign of the profound differences in the way Israel views the two problems and its starkly different role in the two sets of talks?

“Looking at how Bibi views these negotiations tells you a great deal about how he’s seeing the world,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, using the nickname of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi’s self-image first and foremost is shaped by wanting to lead Israel out of the shadow of the Iranian bomb. His image is not driven by being the peacemaker, creating two states and dividing Jerusalem.”

“Both offer pathways that are incredibly problematic for him,” Mr. Miller added. “It’s like the rest of the world is playing checkers and he is forced to play three-dimensional chess.

via Israelis See Ticking Clock...

But even before we consider strategic considerations on Israeli national issues, this is a tectonic change in geopolitical regional alliances between both Israel and Saudi Arabia and the US.  In the end, as Roger Cohen writes, the outcome is not clear:

Diplomacy involves compromise; risk is inherent to it. Iran is to be tested. Nobody can know the outcome. Things may unravel but at least there is hope. Perhaps this is what is most threatening to Netanyahu. He has never been willing to test the Palestinians in a serious way — test their good faith, test ending the humiliations of the occupation, test from strength the power of justice and peace. He has preferred domination, preferred the Palestinians down and under pressure.

On a different front, Dan Drezner weighs in on WSJ Bret Stephens and other conservatives who go berserk over the Munich analogy. Quoting a takedown from Reason magazine that sees the comparison of the Geneva diplomatic deal to Munich as “a crude, ahistorical gimmick to escalate military confrontation.”

The good professor has a few wise words for future would-be foreign policy pundits–invoking possibly shaky historical analogies:

See, there’s a curious but understandable asymmetry in foreign affairs punditry. Warning about an apocalypse that does not happen doesn’t exact that much of a toll on a pundit’s reputation. After all, it’s the job of the pundit to warn about the dangers of world politics, to pore over the downside risks of every region, to spin tales of looming disaster in the air. That’s perceived as prudence by readers. And if the predicted end of the world doesn’t happen? Well, that’s likely because the pundit’s loud warnings prompted preventive action (or so they will tell themselves as they drift off to sleep). Via drezner.foreignpolicy.com

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Will the U.S. Default? Negotiating Away the Threat

In DealBook, Andrew Ross Sorkin explains why default can’t occur–and then why it may:

“As political theater,” he said, “the debt ceiling is not a useful threat, because politicians are basically threatening to shoot themselves, as they will rightly shoulder the blame for the serious global economic consequences of a default.”

Mr. Reinhart’s view has become conventional wisdom on Wall Street when it comes to whether the country will hit the debt ceiling limit on Oct. 17. Warren Buffett put it this way: “We’ll go right up to the point of extreme idiocy, but we won’t cross it.”

Nobody believes the country will actually exceed the debt limit — which is exactly why it might.

via No Way U.S. Would Allow Debt Default? Don’t Bet on It – NYTimes.com.

So, let’s get back to the negotiation side of this:  what can be done to solve the problem?  Now Wharton’s experts are weighing in on how to craft a deal that will work–and avoid the U.S. self-imposed crash:

Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor G. Richard Shell:

  • Ask Presidents Clinton and Bush to co-mediate the dispute.

  • Devise an “unacceptable penalty” that would kick in if the two sides fail to reach an agreement by a set date. For example, begin permanently closing all national parks.

  • Change the negotiators: i.e., replace Obama and Boehner with a new representative from each party – people who still trust one another.

  • Invite participation by an authoritative and neutral third party that would structure a process for resolving the dispute. The government would return to work and the default would be delayed for three months while this process took place.

  • Ask the mayor of a small U.S. town – a political Independent from a swing state — to invite Obama and Boehner for a “backyard beer” to discuss the situation and come up with a solution.

  • Punt the issue down the road again by making an agreement that lasts only three months and then work on one of the other options on this list.

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The U.S. Congress Plays at Game Theory

In the Harvard Business Review blog, Justin Fox follows the lead others have taken and explores how game theory helps us make sense of the current Washington standoff:

Threatening to cause something really bad to happen in order to get your way is a negotiation tactic known as brinkmanship. Here’s a description from game theorist Thomas Schelling, in his 1960 classic The Strategy of Conflict:

If I say “Row, or I’ll tip the boat over and drown us both,” you’ll say you don’t believe me. But if I rock the boat so that it may tip over, you’ll be more impressed.

Not all brinkmanship is seen as acceptable. If a member of Congress showed up in the Capitol with a bomb and threatened to blow the place up unless his colleagues agreed to name a post office after him, he’d surely end up dead or in jail. The debt limit, originally written into law during World War I and raised many, many times since, has often played a role in budget negotiations, and been the subject of much political posturing through the years. But no majority party in the House or Senate appears to have seriously threatened not to increase the ceiling when needed before 2011. That year, a new GOP majority in the House used the threat of a debt ceiling breach to force a number of concessions on government spending, and since then debt-limit brinkmanship has been a recurring feature of the Washington scene.

via Understanding the Game Being Played in Washington – Justin Fox – Harvard Business Review.

Is there room to negotiate? (Hint: we need more schmoozing and face-to-face discussions, according to game theory best practices.)

But looking at the short-term interests of the different players, as opposed to their stated goals, does open up opportunities for negotiation and cooperation. When you focus on others’ interests, rather than their passions, you’re far likelier to be able to predict their behavior and to come to some sort of accommodation with them. I got that idea from the 17th and 18th century thinkers quoted in Albert O. Hirschman’s The Passions and the Interests, but I think it’s a major theme of the negotiation bible Getting to Yes as well. I definitely know that, as somebody who has on occasion been driven to indignation by the statements of the Tea Partiers, the simple act of writing the last few paragraphs has significantly lowered my outrage level and increased my empathy with them (if not necessarily sympathy for them).

Determining just what the opportunities for negotiation and cooperation might be isn’t so easy, of course. The most obvious commonalities of interest involve President Obama and the Tea Party — the Tea Party owes its very existence to Obama’s presidency, while he owes the current unity of the Democratic Party and possibly his 2012 reelection to the Tea Party. But it’s hard to see how to translate this into deals. Would fire-breathing Georgia Republican Paul Broun trade a vote to raise the debt limit for an Obama promise to come to his district and loudly condemn him on the day before the next Republican primary? Probably not.

The prospects for success don’t seem to be great–although many question whether the Republicans will allow the US to default on its debt.  In a post from last January’s gridlock negotiations, Mohamed A. el-Erian writes:

As much as the fiscal debate seems to be always forced into extreme-corner solutions — revenue increases versus spending cuts — the underlying issue is much more consequential. It relates to fundamentally different (and, in part, quite dogmatic) views about the role, scale and scope of government — especially under present circumstances, where growth is sluggish, unemployment is high, safety nets are overly stretched, and income distribution has seriously deteriorated.

So every time the two parties come to the bargaining table, outcomes lack both content and momentum. Indeed, each round renders the next one even more difficult and contentious.

via theAtlantic.com – How Game Theory Explains Washington’s Horrible Gridlock


Can’t get enough of game theory meets current events?  Consider this lengthy TED post, which covers some new terrain, including this fascinating book on how marriage and game theory merge, as well as this:

In their book, It’s Not You, It’s the Dishes, journalists Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson wonder if the daily negotiations of marriage are more like playing a game of poker than most people realize. In the article “Marriage and the Art of Game Theory,” which ran on the Daily Beast in July of 2012, Szuchman writes, “Game theory is the study of how we make decisions in strategic situations. Classic examples: the Cuban missile crisis, soccer penalty kicks, and the first scene of The Dark Knight. When you find yourself debating whether to wait for the bus another minute or give up and walk, you’re facing a game-theory dilemma … To cooperate or not to cooperate? To budge or stand your ground? To say ‘OK, fine’ or ‘not a chance’? These are questions married people find themselves asking with surprising frequency.”


This analysis of The Dark Knight gives us an explication of the opening scene:

The first spoken words concern the topic of strategy. These lines introduce the Joker’s character and they foreshadow the punch and counterpunch of the entire movie. The robbers in the car explain the job and how the loot will be divided. It’s apparent they are not happy with the plan:

Driver: Three of a kind. Let’s do this.

Passenger side: That’s it–three guys?

Driver: Two guys on the roof. Every guy gets a share. Five shares is plenty.

Passenger side: Six shares. Don’t forget the guy who planned the job.

Driver: He thinks he can sit it out and still take a slice. I know why they call him the Joker.

The robbers don’t like that the Joker gets an equal share for doing unequal work. Their complaint raises the issue of fair division, which is central to game theory. In fact, fair division is the first problem that game theory addressed historically. The problem appears in the Babylonian Talmud about how creditors should divide an estate. The text offers a mysterious solution that had baffled scholars for over 2,000 years. It was only very recently that a Nobel Laureate economist deciphered the answer using the tools of coalitional game theory. Let me tell you, the answer is fascinating.



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A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Gibberish – By Micah Zenko | Foreign Policy

This is what diplo-speak looks like:

  • We’re evaluating the situation”: We still haven’t done anything.
  • Events on the ground are fluid”: If I articulate an official position on what’s happening, somebody could get upset with my word choice.
  • All options are on the table“: Bombs.
  • We can’t rule anything out”: We retain the right to do anything and everything.
  • Our position has been very clear“: Let me re-read some nonspecific generalizations from the briefing book that don’t address your question.
  • We welcome this debate“: After harnessing the federal government’s resources to hide the issue, we’re going to dilute it with adjectives, already-public information, and selective leaking.
  • We have serious concerns“: The harshest possible condemnation of an American ally.
  • Intolerable”: Tolerable — obviously, since we’re still only talking about it.
  • Policy X is not aimed at any one country“: Policy X is aimed at China or Iran.
  • We’re in close consultation with X”: We’re going through the pretense of listening to others in an effort to spread the blame and burden.

via A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Gibberish – By Micah Zenko | Foreign Policy.

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New Research Shows How to Negotiate Precisely

How do you negotiate one of the most delicate issues of all workplace challenges, the raise?  Be specific as it signals that you are better informed.

“What we discovered is there is a big difference in what most people think is a good strategy when negotiating and what research shows is a good strategy,” said Professor Mason.  “Negotiators should remember that in this case, zeros really do add nothing to the bargaining table.”

The research, forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, looks at the two-way flow of communication between 1,254 fictitious negotiators.

The negotiators were placed in everyday scenarios such as buying jewelry or negotiating the sale of a used car.  Some people were asked to make an opening offer using a rounded-off dollar amount, while other people were asked to use a precise dollar amount; lets say for example $5,000 vs. $5,015.

The results showed that overall, people making an offer using a precise dollar amount such as $5,015 versus a rounded-off dollar amount such as $5,000 were perceived to be more informed about the true value of the offer being negotiated. This perception, in turn, led precise-offer recipients to concede more value to their counterpart.

via New Research Shows That Asking For A Precise – Not Round -… — NEW YORK, May 31, 2013 /PRNewswire/ —.

An interview with Professor Malia Mason was also featured on NPR All Things Considered.

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