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PART 4: Mesmerizing the Entire Audience


Bruce Horowitz

When the other party is an entire government office

Making the elephant reappear in the balcony after disappearing from the stage may be the magician’s most impressive trick. In another arena, a theatrical Svengali will start off hypnotizing one subject, then move on to three volunteers, and finally (if the show is being televised) end up by mesmerizing the entire studio audience. The biggest feats often appear to be the hardest, but they may be relatively easy, and simply require more mounting time and organization. Such is the case when dealing with extortionist government offices. In the previous articles in this series of article, we have dealt with the theoretical basis for using negotiation principles when dealing with extortionist government functionaries, the barriers to entering into this kind of negotiation, and the personal preparation needed prior to confronting government-side extortion. Now, we move on to actual contact, not yet with the individual extortionist, but rather with an entire extortionist “village” –the government office.

The Government Office as a Cultural Unit

I do not know who first recognized the link between difficult negotiations and cultural differences, but I turn to Herb Cohen who wrote that if the other party is strongly defending a totally incomprehensible position, then you may be facing a cultural barrier1 rather than just laziness, craziness, craftiness, stupidity or evil. Remember this as you wander from one bureaucratic counter to the next, and then the next, trying to rescue a shipment out of the customs house, or secure a visa-extension stamp on your passport. When the person behind the little window, surrounded by stacks of documents identical to yours, seems to have allocated a higher priority to nail care or the sports section than to your needs, please consider culture. To paraphrase the authors of INFLUENCER2, the problem you are now facing was perfected by the world in its present state. So, setting aside the possibility of laziness, let us assume that these bureaucrats are not crazy, stupid or evil, and that slow-downs and denials of things to which you have a right, right now, are this culture’s least confrontational tactic for getting you to pay a bribe; and that the individuals in this culture have been able to morally justify their inaction, dehumanize the public, minimize the effect of their extortions, and/or displace onto others their own responsibility, all in order to maintain their own sense of self-esteem.3

As a member of this culture, you may be encouraged to force outsiders to pay bribes before timely giving them what is rightfully theirs. For us, the key term in the last sentence is not “bribes”, but “outsiders”. We imagine that extortionist government functionaries are ”omnivorous”, that they do not distinguish between potential victims; but even the first year law students in our extortion deterrence workshops immediately recognize that extortionist functionaries do not extort their mothers. Then, we realize that, with few exceptions in this culture, extortionists do not demand bribes from their sisters, their friends, their co-workers, their next-door neighbors, their soccer teammates, certain classmates from grade school, their religion instructors, AND friends and relatives of any these people who call at the request of these people.4

Joining without Joining

As you can see, this non-extortable group is rather large5. More importantly, it is permeable and expandable.6 Thus, your goal is to stop being an “outsider”, and to enter into a “trust relationship” with this non-self-extorting socio-cultural group. This goal may be anathema to the modernization movement that is trying to lessen government corruption by eliminating personal contact between the government functionaries and the private citizen.7 They are right, of course –if you eliminate personal contact, you eliminate the bribery situation– but, at the moment when you are standing in front of a government functionary rather than a touch screen, you need to create a relationship other than that of “outsider”.

The fastest way to do this is to hire an agent who is already a member. What did I just say?! Yes, the “red flags” have just unfurled with a snap and the sirens have gone off, as they should; but, just as there are always honest workers within an extortionist culture, there are also honest intermediaries who have created non-bribery trust relationships and who can help you get what is rightfully yours from the government without submitting to extortion.8 They may not be easy to locate, and each one might only have a non-bribing “trust” relationship with just one or a few government offices, but look for them, hire them, and the ask for detailed receipts. Do the “due diligence” on them. Never instruct them to “do whatever it takes to get the job done.” Always let them know that in the end, they must walk away from any negotiation in which the only negotiable agreement contains a bribe. Do everything you should do to minimize the risk of a bribe payment as you continue to work with your trustworthy agent.9

Whether or not you hire an agent (trusted from both sided) to deal with specific government offices, you and your firm or company must also do the following to create and maintain the trust relationship with the government office:

  1. Never offer a bribe

  2. Never submit to extortion

If you follow the two rules, above, entire government offices will soon identify you and your company as not worth the effort or the risk. More to the psychological point, they will consider you not worth the embarrassment that even hardened extortionists feel when they behold the presence of an active non-briber. Even more interesting, they will trust you more than their own co-workers.

  1. Make sure your paperwork is correct

  2. File your documents on time

Extortionist functionaries look for flaws in order to gain leverage in the negotiation over bribes. By doing things correctly and on time, you maintain your leverage in any negotiation.

The next five suggestions come straight from the books on Humanistic Psychology and Negotiation

  1. Treat government functionaries respectfully, and if possible, cordially.

  2. Friendly relationships with government functionaries are not unethical, as long as you respect their positions. Human friendship is not a bribe.

  3. Be absolutely clear, but not abusive, when rejecting an extortion demand.10

  4. Give the government functionary extortionist the information necessary to understand what makes you or your company different from the normal line of bribe-paying companies.

  5. Be honest with them just as you would be honest with any other party to a negotiation11

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January 2008