Competitive games and collaborative results

2009-03-21

in Books and literature, Politics, The environment

Fence and porch, Toronto

Because it was recommended in a blog I read (though I cannot remember which), I am reading Herb Cohen’s You Can Negotiate Anything. While the book is quite dated in terms of views on race and sex, it does contain some interesting observations, many of which relate closely to politics and international relations. For instance, the author asserts that: “In order to achieve a collaborative result in a competitive environment, you have to play the game.”

What this suggests is that approaches that are superficially unifying, like Obama’s call for post-partisanship, are either naive or ploys in a system where trust is always conditional and ephemeral, as it is between political parties. It also speaks to the game theory reality that, in a situation where one party is considering only their own interests, while the other is trying to strike an equitable balance, the outcome will tilt in the direction of the selfish party: after all, people on both sides of the negotiation are thinking about the selfish party’s interests, while those of their counterparty are only getting half the attention.

When it comes to climate change, it does seem necessary to ‘play the game.’ Voters and politicians have been exposed to the chilling scientific projections ad nauseum, and yet very little real action has been undertaken at a global level. North America and Australia are particularly laggard, when it comes to doing something concrete. Of course, recognizing the need to engage in ‘game playing’ doesn’t put one much closer to having an effective strategy to overcome status quo opposition and bring the behaviour of firms, states, and individuals in line with what basic sanity demands.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan March 25, 2009 at 9:21 pm

I doubt I will ever write a full review of Cohen’s book.

That being said, it does contain some useful information.

. October 8, 2012 at 2:03 am

Mr Fisher had a system. He outlined it with William Ury in his book “Getting to Yes” (1981), which sold 3m copies; he also taught it to students, especially, from 1979, through his Harvard Negotiation Project. Like all good tools, it got better with use. In any negotiation, he wrote—even with terrorists—it was vital to separate the people from the problem; to focus on the underlying interests of both sides, rather than stake out unwavering positions; and to explore all possible options before making a decision. The parties should try to build a rapport, check each other out, even just by shaking hands or eating together. Each should “listen actively”, as he always did, to what the other was saying. They should recognise the emotions on either side, from a longing for security to a craving for status. And they should try to get inside each other’s heads.

That was the theory, and Mr Fisher delighted to put it into practice. At the Geneva summit of 1985, for example, Ronald Reagan on his advice did not confront Mikhail Gorbachev, but sat by a roaring fire with him while they exchanged ideas. More summits followed. A border war between Peru and Ecuador was nipped in the bud when Mr Fisher advised the president of Ecuador (once a pupil of his) to sit on a sofa with the Peruvian president, and look at a map with him. Interviewing President Nasser of Egypt in 1970, Mr Fisher asked him how Golda Meir, then Israel’s prime minister, would be regarded at home if she agreed to all his demands. “Boy, would she have a problem!” Nasser laughed. He then grew thoughtful, having briefly seen their dispute from her point of view.

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