The Negotiator Magazine

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The vomit factor You have probably heard yourself or someone else say with a particular look on their face, "That person turns my stomach". This is often the response of a sincere and ethical person to someone else who has just asked them for a bribe. However, many are the masters of Negotiation theory and practice who tell us to negotiate the issues, not the people.4 Don't let the vomit factor get in the way of your negotiation with extortionist government functionaries. Enough said about that.

How can you hold "principled" negotiations with people who have no principles?

Here we come to the definition of "Principled Negotiation". There is a syllogism that goes like this:

Major premise: Principled Negotiation can only occur if both negotiators have some ethical principles.
Double Minor premise: extortionist government functionaries are corrupt, and corrupt people have no ethical principles
Conclusion: You cannot have Principled Negotiations with any extortionist government functionary.

The conclusion is invalid for at least three reasons. The first error is in the major premise where Principled Negotiation is identified solely with ethical or moral principle, rather than with "ground rules" upon which the negotiating parties can reach agreement.5 The next two errors are in the Minor Premise, based on the assumptions that "all extortionist government functionary are corrupt" and that "corrupt people have no ethical principles" (both of which assumptions are questionable). Even totally corrupt people tend to think logically and react emotionally in their own self-interest; and they are, therefore, interested in using and keeping ground rules in a negotiation.6 In other words, extortionist government functionaries are still human beings with the same basic psychological needs as the rest of us, and (here’s the secret) those needs can be satisfied by things other than bribes. What those other things are will be discussed in a later installment.

So, the first ground rule on negotiating with EGF's, whom almost everyone considers to be "corrupt", is to realize that a EGF is not the devil; a EGF does not spread disease to nor rub up against you and leave a deposit of filth. An EGF is actually a cross between a salesperson with a hard or soft sell and a premeditated hostage-taker of a public good or service or contract to which you or your client are entitled, and for which you usually have a great need. When you negotiate with a kidnapper the law will generally not prosecute you for negotiating a large payment for the return of the kidnap victim. When you negotiate with an EGF for what rightfully belongs to you or your client, then the law, with just a few life-threatening exceptions, will prosecute you for submitting to the extortion demand in order to get what is rightfully yours.

The "theatre seat" dispute — How can you negotiate over something that is rightfully yours in the first place It is Friday night —time to relax and go to the theatre to enjoy that musical which has been sold out for months. You walk down the aisle and hand your $150 ticket to the usher, who politely informs you that you may take your seat if you pay her just $20 for the privilege. Do you negotiate? Do you think about anchoring and bracketing issues? Do you give her a fiver just to avoid the nuisance? No, probably not. Probably not, because you bought the ticket, and you have all the right in the world to sit in seat 5M, straight behind center stage. Now you know how it feels to a company representative who has properly won a government contract, and who is watching the lips of a government representative who is saying that your company can start to work as soon as you hire a particular consulting firm to oversee the contract, and that you must pay that firm 15% of the contract value. Now you know how it feels to be an indigent parent who is being told by the orderly at the "free" public hospital that the doctor can perform the urgent surgery on your child as soon as you come up with $200, plus six Type O+ volunteer blood donors and seven rolls of gauze.

How can you negotiate over something that is rightfully yours in the first place? Of course, this is a rhetorical question, rather than an inquiry into counter-anchoring techniques. And the answer is that you have to if you want to get what is rightfully yours in an obscure system where your need is deep, where the other party has a monopoly on what you want and an arbitrary authority over deciding who gets it, and there appears to be no one in the hierarchy or in law enforcement who will help you.7

So, yes, sometimes you do have to negotiate for something that already belongs to you.

4"Separate the People from the Problem." Fisher, Ury and Patton, GETTING TO YES (Second Edition), Penguin Books, 1991, p. 15.

5This distinction may be confusing at times, as in, "More often success is achieved by finding a solution that is arguably consistent with each side's principles. (Fisher, Ury and Patton, p. 164) versus the same authors at page 86, "Objective criteria should apply, at least in theory, to both sides." Objective criteria and ethical principles are not necessarily identical, and even two corrupt people can and do successfully negotiate outcomes, upon objective criteria, but without moral sustenance.

6 Some extortionist government functionaries, mainly at the higher levels of government, may be logical, but at the same time they may have an addiction to corruption, which appears to be very similar to an addiction to gambling in terms of high risk acceptance and the sacredness and untouchability or insubstantiality of the money won or corruptly taken. See the description of gambling addiction at

7"However unsavory the other side, unless you have a better BATNA, the question you face is not whether to negotiate, but how." Fisher, Ury and Patton, GETTING TO YES (Second Edition), Penguin Books, 1991, p.161.

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October 2007