Why the Republicans Need to Go to Mediators’ School


Recently I heard a comment from Republican House leader John Boehner. It was so outrageously stupid, it deserved more attention than it got. Any good mediator, or lawyer who mediates, would spot it in a second.

He stated, “The Republicans are willing to work with the Democrats on solutions for America, but on the issue of taxes (or anything else substantive) we will never compromise on matters of principle. We just need to find areas of common ground.” (or words to this effect.)

It is scary to think that a man with his power has such a poor understanding of how to negotiate solutions.

Here is what I explain to every client before we go to a mediation. Each side has something he or she wants, and an idea of what he might give up in order to reach agreement. So, the old model for negotiating, which I read 20 years ago in a book called “Getting to Yes”, was to have a first, second, and final negotiating position.

I had negotiated hundreds of compromise agreements but could not understand why I usually agreed to something different from (usually less) than what I was going after. Then I learned the answer. When each side stakes out its first, second, and final position, the results look like this:

1)>>>>2)>>>>3)>(No Mans’ land )<(3<<<<(2<<<<(1 >>>

Usually there remains a gap because:

1. Neither party has yet listened to the arguments from the other side;

2. Neither party has fully appreciated the risk, cost, and delay associated with failing to reach agreement;

3. Neither party has yet been persuaded by a good mediator; and,

4. Neither party is yet ready to give up something that really hurts!

And until each party is ready to go into the uncharted territory where she/he had not planned to go, there will be no mediated compromise agreement.

Boehner, by announcing he will never compromise on “principle” is stubbornly refusing to do what a good lawyer expects his client to do, moving into the painful area where we must go in order to reach a compromise. That area, of course is where the “common ground” is located. So, Boehner’s statement is meaningless.

His position, quite simply, is that while every other American, especially the middle class and poor, must sacrifice in a time of economic hardship, the wealthy will not give up even one percentage point in new or increased taxes.

When his opponents offer to raise the income levels where increases take place, or reduce the percentage of increase, Boehner says, no, no, no!  He is a political hack, not a leader, and certainly not a person willing to enter the difficult territory of true compromise.

I sure would not want to go to a mediation with him on the other side.

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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