Distributive Bargaining, or How Not To Make Friends and Influence People

Okay, we know that our baby boy in the White House isn’t exactly one to pore over reports, briefs, and academic papers, but his behavior in several realms is beginning to attract notice from those who do — especially people who muse about such things as distributive bargaining.  This first drew publicity back in August 2017 when experts were dismayed at his use of distributive bargaining in inappropriate settings. [HuffPo] Harken back to the early days of baby boy’s dealings with Mexico and Australia, over The Wall and refugees.

“Nobody wants to feel taken. Effective negotiators recognize that once we understand each other’s underlying interests, we can truly invent options for mutual gain,” said Shapiro, who wrote the book Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts. “These leaders behind closed doors need to feel comfortable sharing information with one another so they can start figuring out options that address each of their constituency’s interests.”

Mexico didn’t want to feel “taken” by The Wall, nor did Australia want to be “taken” by being strong armed into breaking a U.S-Australian deal on refugees.  Unfortunately, baby boy’s negotiation style fits into the classic distributive bargaining definition:

‘The ultimate aim, under distributive bargaining approach, is not to come to a win-win kind of situation but that one side wins as much they can. Both parties will try to get the maximum share from the asset or resource which needs to be distributed.”[EconTimes]

Nothing creates instant impasse quite so well as setting out intractable positions and demanding one side accept terms which are in essence a loss in order to appease the more bellicose of the two bargainers. Baby boy is the more bellicose of the bargainers.  At this point, it’s relevant to address the difference between distributive bargaining and integrated bargaining.

In distributive bargaining the Big Point is the Walk Away Position.  That would be the point at which I would walk away from the car dealership if the make, model, and price of the vehicle in question wasn’t what comported with my financial situation and personal needs.  After all there are other dealerships, and I can safely ignore my other competitors.  If I were to consider my competition I’d want to engage in integrative bargaining, also sometimes called productive bargaining.

 “In integrative bargaining, each party works at understanding what the other really needs out of the negotiation. This, in turn, depends on being able to question the other party about their interests, or otherwise discover what they really are (i.e. it is possible for one party to lead into this process even if the other party initially is not cooperative). In integrative bargaining, parties will tend to avoid taking arbitrary “positions,” while still being assertive about their needs. This approach is clearly distinguishable from “distributive” or “positional” bargaining, in which the usual sequence is for one party to start unrealistically “high” and the other to start low, with successive offers narrowing the difference — without either party really understanding what the other seeks to achieve.” [BICK]

While we could say distributive bargaining is product driven, we could assert that integrated bargaining is process driven.  This is a bit too simplistic, but then our baby boy on Pennsylvania Avenue isn’t all that interested in complicated, nuanced, matters, so let’s keep it simple for him.

Much integrated bargaining was done during the negotiating process for the Trans Pacific Partnership — which had its problems, however being intractable and simplistic wasn’t one.  The bargaining also assumed there were not one but several layers and levels of interests involved.  The US wanted to get a handle on Chinese statutes on intellectual property rights. The Chinese were interested in involvement in a regional trade scheme.  The US was interested in Chinese purchases of US debt, thus keeping interest rates under control.  The Japanese were interested in securing their interests in the Pacific region with both the US and the Chinese, and with the Australians.  The Australians were (are) interested in securing markets for goods and services while maintaining strong diplomatic ties to western Europe and the United States.  And so on.  There were 12 nations in on the negotiations.  So, baby boy blew it up.  [BBC] See also: WaPo April 2017.

On the third day of his presidency, Trump signs an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “Everyone knows what that means right? We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Trump says as he signs the order. “Great thing for the American worker, what we just did.”  [WaPo]

Not. So. Fast.  First, on July 14, 2017 those 11 other nations which had been involved in the integrated bargaining over the TPP terms signed an agreement without the US.  They get what they wanted…we get to twiddle our thumbs?  And we’ve still not come to any agreement with the Chinese about their handling of intellectual property rights.  Punditty types on my television set are wringing hands and clutching pearls as the US and China descend into trade/tariff war territory — “but but but what about the intellectual property rights — the real issue between the two countries? — they moan into their microphones. What about it?

When Baby Boy shifted US bargaining from integrated to distributive negotiations he shaved off the need to consider the needs of our competitors and our interest in dealing with the issues on a multi-layered basis, and went straight for the Winner Takes All distributive bargaining model. So, if we’re wondering what’s going wrong in regard to our trade relations with our two largest markets, Canada and Mexico, and our problems with China, and our issues with the European Union… look no further than Baby Boy and his one size fits nothing distributive bargaining model.


More information at:

Economic Times, Definition of Distributive Bargaining.  Beyond Intractability, Distributive Bargaining. University of Colorado-Boulder, Distributive Bargaining.  Harvard PON Distributive Bargaining Strategies.  Small Business Chronicle, Distributive and Integrative Bargaining.

 

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