Reason and Compromise

Before you could think you knew that being unreasonable was a powerful negotiating tool. Babies who throw their toys out of the pram get what they want more often than not. Shame on those who give in. Even a toddler needs to be taught how to get their own way while remaining a nice person. And even the most recalcitrant tennager must be argued with in the – sometimes desperate – belief that one day they, too, will be reasonable. Reason is at the base of our civilised society. When reason goes, civility goes too. But unreasonableness remains a weapon of force.

For its successful implementation reasonableness often requires compromise. You want a walk in the park, I want to visit the museum. So we walk across the park to the museum and walk back, across the park, later. Not all compromises are that easy. Added to which the definitions of words like reason and compromise change over time. Even without President Trump’s help the idea of compromise has shifted from being ‘meeting the other person halfway’ to ‘I’ve made you an offer. If you don’t accept it you are being unreasonable’.

In the early days of Boston Consulting Group Bruce Henderson produced a paper, with a fairly innocent title, on the art of negotiating. Its contents were explosive. He was promoting the idea of being unreasonable to succeed when negotiating – innovative for the 1960s, certainly in Britain. He and I used to meet for dinner at the Dorchester Hotel. He taught me how to finesse an argument so that the other person won – and you got what you wanted. In practice, as I later worked out – in order to manage people better – it amounted to thinking the other person’s part.

Bully bosses abound. They get their way by threatening to use their power to fire or demote you or deprive you of some benefit such as a good appraisal or a bonus recommendation. If they can do that why should they practice the more difficult art of keeping you on their side while still getting their way but while also losing the advantage of having good suggestions from you now and then? More often than you might imagine it is sheer laziness. They don’t want to have to think of anyone but themselves or of anything other than their own KPIs. Sometimes it is arrogance.

People misunderstand the appearance of shyness and discomfort when dealing with others. They think it’s a kind of modesty. Actually it is arrogance. It is a preoccupation with the impression you are making on others to the exclusion of the needs, interests and susceptibilities of them. So it doesn’t take a brute to be arrogant; introverts accomplish the same thing more quietly.

There are sound commercial reasons for dealing with people kindly but fairly. There are also social reasons. While companies are rightly being encouraged to be better employers one argument seems to have been forgotten or discredited. It is the fact that socially cooperative societies work better than uncooperative ones. Whatever your beliefs about your responsibilities to others the underlying principle of civilisation is trust. That embraces commitment, honesty, competence, determination.

Commitment to the interests of others. Honesty to be open and transparent within the bounds of kindness. Competence to do as well for others as you will do for yourself. Determination to succeed enough to look in the mirror and say ‘well done’.

Brush up your Reason and Compromise skills.

They are needed today more than ever.

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