Learning to Pitch Negotiations

By David M. Jackson

As the long, enduring humidity of July baseball passes, the St. Louis Cardinals zone in on the final months of the regular season in an attempt to satisfy the interests of their fans and goals of their team with a playoff birth and World Series Championship.  Each year as the trade deadline approaches at the end of July, teams negotiate moves that will be mutually beneficial to each organization in regards to their current position and goals.  But whether it is spring training, mid-summer, or late October, it is expected that General Manager John Mozeliak and the Cardinals organization spends the majority of their time negotiating for the best players, coaches, and atmosphere that will provide the best path to victory and wealth for the City of St. Louis.  The same concept holds true in the profession of lobbying and the process of negotiation, whether it is the first week of session or the last.

The fundamentals of negotiation are the same at all levels of complexity.  The simple notion of “putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes” can be the backbone of a deal on the playground or on the Senate floor, as the ability to identify the varied interests of those involved gives one the power to recognize the game being played.  As stated in the Harvard Business Review, “differences, rather than common ground, are the raw material for most joint gains.”  In politics, legislators often take a position on issues based on the interest of the district they represent.  Therefore, rather than debating positions on an issue, a lobbyist can be more effective by identifying the interests of the legislator and their district in order to better negotiate a joint gain that will also benefit the priorities of their client.  Moreover, the reason the Missouri General Assembly consists of 163 State Representatives and 34 State Senators, is to process the differences in interests and negotiate laws that will provide better gains for the entire state in all areas of life.

A lobbyist’s main role is to watch the game, identify the interests of legislators and special interests, and negotiate the ideal, or if not, the best alternative option that best benefits their client.  A key component to negotiation is the art of listening.  As Harvard Professor, James Sebenius claims in Essentials of Negotiation, “Since agreement represents the simultaneous solution of all sides’ problems, solving their problem is part of your problem.”  By tuning into hearings, floor debate, hallway chatter, and media, a contract lobbyist is capable of understanding the opponents’ interests, which enables them to transition from identifying the game to recognizing the next step of opportunities to change the game.  There is an infinite assortment of ways to change the legislative process ranging through introduction of a bill, an amendment to pass a bill, and amendment to kill a bill, the overall passage of a bill, or preventing the passage of a bill. Each of these steps and everything in-between involves negotiation with everyone who has interest in the game.  In processing these negotiations, a lobbyist must determine: 1) what are the alternatives? 2) what are the critical uncertainties that rest upon each decision or outcome in the negotiation?, and 3) What objectives are trying to be achieved through the negotiation process.  Ultimately, a contract lobbyist is the manager of legislation on behalf of their clients, and must use their judgment on how to best negotiate their interests with the differences in the legislature.  An issue manager or corporate lobbyist must look at each trade or deal to decide if it will put them in a better position than their best alternative option.

While the St. Louis Cardinals only bring fans to the stadium for baseball games seven months out of the year, fans are watching all year as the team negotiates and strategizes to put themselves in a better position day in and day out.  Similarly, the gavel may not be active in Jefferson City twelve months out of the year, but as long as there are citizens in the State of Missouri, there are negotiations being made on how to better the quality of life.  A new election is a new draft with new interests, and the world of lobbying and politics is an ever changing game of negotiation.  Play Ball!!!