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The Courage to Compromise: A Lesson for Today’s Politicians

By Gary Noesner

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During my thirty plus year career in the FBI, and lengthy tenure as the Chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, I confronted difficult interpersonal conflicts on a regular basis, often with individuals or groups whose strong beliefs, inflexible interpretation of events, or sense of being victimized brought them into conflict with law enforcement. At first glance, interacting with such individuals could appear hopeless based on their inability to see any solution other than having their demands met. These individuals often viewed compromise as a sign of acquiescence or weakness, especially in those situations where their behavior was influenced by an outside audience. The sad and pathetic state of political discourse among our elected leaders in Congress today is reminiscent of the same challenges my fellow negotiators and I faced in peacefully resolving conflict. With the hope of changing the state of this discourse, I offer some insights from a career in crisis negotiation.

Despite the enormous challenges involved in securing cooperation from individuals acting on strong emotion rather than logic, law enforcement negotiators are successful in achieving peaceful outcomes over 90 percent of the time. We do this through thoughtful listening and demonstrating that we understand the perspectives of the other party. This is neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Our key response consists of a sincere and genuine acknowledgement of their point of view. We also try to stay flexible in finding a solution they can accept. Even though they see events differently than we do, we remain respectful, genuine, and non-argumentative. It’s important not to demonize our opponents or engage in name calling, which only inhibits cooperation. This demonstrates respect and helps achieve a calmer atmosphere in which a more flexible approach to problem solving can take place.

If we were able to achieve this high level of success in real “life and death” situations, then why can’t the approaches and techniques used be even more successful in less life threatening political disagreements? The answer is that today’s extreme political climate does not encourage or reward cooperation and compromise. In fact, it seems that today’s politicians are more interested in appealing to their partisan base of support rather than in trying to work together for the common good with those who have a different perspective. How can we encourage our politicians to be real statesmen rather than trying to be the most outspoken and unyielding voice for their political ideology? I believe we accomplish this important transition by demanding courage from our politicians. Our political leaders need to find the courage to do what’s best for the country, even at possible risk to their political careers. This is what real statesmanship is all about. It’s important for these politicians, as well as the voting public, to understand that only a spoiled child expects to get his or her way all the time. This is not how real life works and it’s certainly not how government functions best.

The Courage to Compromise: A Lesson for Today’s Politicians By Gary Noesner


Copyright © 2014 Gary Noesner
Copyright ©   2014  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  February 2014