“Is President Trump a Good Negotiator?” Episode 1.01 (Oct. 18, 2018)
[0:00:11.1] JP: Okay, welcome to the Ask the Negotiation Professor Podcast. This is our very first episode. The topic of this episode is, ‘Is Trump a Good Negotiator?’ I’m Jennifer Parlamis and I’m an Associate Professor at the University of San Francisco. I’ve been teaching and conducting research in the area of negotiation and conflict resolution for over 15 years. I’m also on the board of the International Association of Conflict Management and this podcast is an initiative of IACM.
The idea of the podcast came from the conversation over dinner with Maurice Schweitzer at the IACM conference in Philadelphia. We wanted to find ways to bring the voice of negotiation scholars to current topics and events. We are starting with a few topics but would love to get suggestions for future topics or for folks to actually submit questions for negotiation scholars to explore.[INTERVIEW]
[0:00:59.0]JP: I’m thrilled today to have Linda Putnam and Bruce Barry here in conversation. They are two accomplished negotiation scholars, both have authored many books, published widely and academic journals throughout their career, they are very much leaders in the field.
Linda Putnam is a Distinguished Research Professor and a Emerita Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on negotiation and management in organizations or in contradictions in organizations, gender studies and organizations and organizational spaces. Linda, would you like to add anything to your background and maybe mention why this topic is interesting to you?
[0:01:31.3] LP: Well, I wouldn’t add anything, that’s fine but the topic is interesting to me because I think we have a new type of negotiator and he’s a paradoxical negotiator and a paradoxical leader. I’m going to try to comment on that when you get in to talking about Trump and what he’s doing as a negotiator.
[0:01:50.9] JP: Thank you. Also here with us is Bruce Barry. Bruce is a Professor of Management and Sociology and Vanderbilt University. His current research explores the social context of ethical decision making, the intersection of ethics and emotion and deception and entitlement in negotiation and he’s also exploring the role of political ideology in the exercise of corporate influence of the policy.
Bruce, anything else you’d like to mention about your background and why this topic’s important to you.
[0:02:18.2] BB: That’s enough about me, I think one of this interesting about the topic and about Trump is the fact that you know, good and bad, like him or don’t like him, it has produced a lot of public talk about negotiation. Because he likes to brag what a great negotiator is and people, like others like to write about whether he is or isn’t a good one. He’s put what we do as scholars, this study of negotiation kind of on the table for everybody during this time of his presidency. That in and of itself I think makes it worth talking about.
[0:02:47.2] JP: Great, good. Let’s just start kind of with the basic point of how you describe Trump as a negotiator? Linda, do you want to go first?
[0:02:55.6] LP: Well, I say, if you looked at it in a classic text books, one involved and one in which Bruce is actually a co-author on, he’s a hard nose negotiator, there’s no doubt about it. He uses a lot of a intimidation and aggressive tactics, hard ball tactics. He has a kind of zero sum mindset about when he goes in to do negotiations.
I think we could take it and look at that and his role in making ultimatums and so forth. Classifying him as a hard ball negotiator but I think it’s far more complex than that. I think he is a person who deals in contradictions. He is a contradiction, he has so many between public, private, truth, false, the whole notion of being spontaneous versus planned, it’s difficult to see if he’s being strategic or bumbling into things.
He is confusion and he is disruption, again, a kind of negotiation tactic in its own right, I think makes him an interesting problematic figure to look at in negotiation because I don’t think we’ve actually talked about someone quite like that where we talk about these hard ball tactics and the stances that are being taken here.
That’s just in a nutshell, we can embellish on this and about what he does to create confusion and chaos and disruption and then how he uses some of these oppositional forms. I will say this, we need to talk about him and what we often call post truth society. It’s being said over and over again that a post truth society is where you don’t even care about the truth. It is just absolutely irrelevant. The issue is going after the facts, problematizing the facts, it’s not facts and then cutting down our institutions.
I think this is a part of how we need to look at him as a negotiator.
[0:04:53.1] BB: Yeah, I would agree with that, pretty much everything Linda said there. One observation, I agree that you could characterize him in generally speaking as one who likes hard ball tactics and seems zero sum at times. I think one of the interesting things is that because the man appears to be what I say, unprincipled and by that I mean, he is not loyal to any particular set of political or ideological principles really. It actually makes him, maybe, I don’t know if this is part of the paradox that Linda has in mind.
But actually makes him quite strikingly a very potentially flexible negotiator. When he make something like a strong commitment statement, I think if you’re on the other side of the table and you’re thoughtful about it, you can kind of ignore it or at least not ignore it necessarily as a firm commitment. One of the things about the post truth landscape that Linda mentioned is the commitment statements take on a lot less meaning than we imagined the do in our negotiation text books and our negotiation classrooms, we tell our students how important these commitment statements are.
He ends up being weirdly both hard ball and zero sum at times but also quite valuable and flexible because we know that there aren’t really too many principles that he actually genuinely cares about to the point that he will hold out for them as an extreme, taking an extreme negotiating positions, to really understand them as a negotiator, I think we have to understand that kind of contradiction.
[0:06:25.4] JP: Yeah, I think that really showed itself with the kind of interaction he had with Kim Jong Un in north Korea when he said, he called off the negotiations and he was very open about saying, well, let’s – maybe it’s still on the table, he kind of went back and forth quite a bit, first making an ultimatum and then allowing it to be flexible.
[0:06:45.0] BB: That clearly sends a signal, doesn’t it? To the next world leader of domestic congressional leader, whoever he’s negotiating with, it sends a kind of a clear signal about those kinds of actions and commitments that it could be the Prime Minister of Canada, it could be anybody when he says well, “I’m shutting down this conversation because I’m annoyed with how it’s going.” You can interpret it as he’s shutting it down for the moment and he’ll probably start it up just as quickly when the moment passes.
[0:07:15.2] LP: I’ll echo what Bruce is saying and hitch hike on it but this predictable, unpredictable paradox contradiction he lives in, does do this. Makes him firm and flexible and at the same time, makes him difficult to anticipate anything in the future. I think that’s what Bruce is saying. Now, when Pompeo over there, is Pompeo playing the team negotiator with it? What’s his role?
Are they going to play good cop bad cop? Is Trump going to be kind of saying I’ll call this off at any moment and Pompeo saying okay. It’s real interesting to see that it’s not so clear what those tactics are going to be and what it’s going to lead to. It’s highly debatable whether he’s had an effect or not. It’s on the news right now. Some people believe that there is disarmament – other are saying no way. Again, I think the contradictions and playing on them and heightening them, he’s very good at heightening them, is a way that he’s throwing his opponents off guard.
[0:08:17.9] JP: He bring up the point of kind of, what are the consequences of this type of interaction. How do you see this potentially impacting kind of the credibility that Trump has or the negotiation relationships and that sort of thing inside and outside of the White House or globally?
[0:08:37.0] BB: Yeah, that’s a great question. Easy to say but maybe overly simplistic to say you know, he comes off as a sort of an untrustworthy or unfaithful negotiating counterpart and that that would breed distrust and dissatisfaction and all of that stuff. But the thing is, the thing about being in the particularly uniquely generous disposition of president of the united states is a lot of the people you negotiate with, just don’t have much of a walk away option.
I think after negotiation, it’s just sort of concluded, kind of in a nice example of that that you don’t have to be a genius to know that Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada would probably prefer to just tell him to go take a hike. Canada do not negotiate with the President of the United States over north American trade.
How it affects to relate your question, how it affects relationships is tricky because these are cases where your relationship partners don’t really have an easy walk away option in a lot of cases.
[0:09:35.1] LP: Yeah, good point.
[0:09:36.7] JP: I agree and I think what Bruce is saying, in some ways, power trumps to use the word, relationships, I believe exactly that in the kind power. I mean, it is also about the climate, recent climate reports that the UN presented and if indeed, we’re not on this stage, not much is going to happen. I think that’s right, a lot of these negotiations are pivotal in the fact that he has so much legitimate power as President of the United States and then he draws so much on many other kinds of power. I don’t think he cares about relationship or that relationship is not what’s involved in negotiation.
[0:10:18.0] BB: If I could add one comment to that. I think that as many aspects of his negotiation and maybe especially this relationship front. I think the really interesting context is not so much his international negotiations with foreign leaders. But his domestic negotiations with the congressional leaders of the party, with Mercado and with Paul Ryan and because they need each other often at times and they don’t need each other at other times.
You know, the Republicans in congress and I don’t want to get political here so I won’t. But the Republicans in Congress have had some you know, pretty tricky choices to make about how they want to negotiate with this President who does what they want, some of the time and just vomits them at other times.
I think when the dissertations are written on Trump and negotiation, I think the domestic side may be at least is interesting if you have more so than the international one.
[0:11:08.2] JP: Very much so.
[0:11:08.4] LP: Very good point.
[0:11:10.6] JP: Relatedly, how do you think some of the personal attacks – If relationship doesn’t really matter that much because he does have this legitimate power in the role that he’s in. What about these personal attacks that he’s using, the ad homonym kind of personal attacks that he uses and what role does that have if at all, does that matter?
[0:11:31.2] LP: One thing I would share and this might be his tweets or it might be other things. You know, one of the things he does is get attention. If you looked at the NAFTA negotiation, some people say, they never would have come to the table, you know? I just think I want to renegotiate NAFTA. I think some of his ways, his styles of doing this to call attention, get the negotiation to the table, make it possible to do this, back off from everything he said because contradiction doesn’t bother him at all.
Actually get attention for the process of what he’s engaging in. In some ways, I think there are tactics that are ironically spontaneously planned. Again, paradoxically, I think he has no problem with the tweets and using the tweets and one thing, this has been analyzed by some others, the tweets allow him to just blur public private. He just messes that together. Kind of contradiction in this is to look as if it’s private when really, it’s very public.
[0:12:39.8] BB: I think the kind of insults and ad homonym attacks, yeah. It is sort of a few different purposes, I think on of the purposes they serve especially via Twitter is kind of a diversionary purpose and this is more of a political point than a negotiating point because as a normal negotiator, you are really not trying to age an diversionary tactics and make your opponents not think about the negotiation but a lot of the insults and the wild stuff on Twitter, the really provocative stuff is clearly about changing public conversations that are going on around his administration.
Changing the subject, don’t look at what that woman is saying to congress about Brett Kavanaugh, look over here where I have been solving the leader of some foreign country. He is clearly using Twitter as a negotiating vehicle because he do messaging on Twitter that serves some of the ongoing negotiations and I think one of the things that is happening I assume, I am not a foreign leader or a leader of Congress but I assume that he’s been doing this now so much the insults piled on the insults. The crazy statements that have the TV talking ahead saying, “You know we couldn’t imagine if you could get any more extreme or more provocative than this.” It must have an inoculating and numbing effect.
I mean there has to be a point at which he sends out some tweet that tells John Trudeau that he is weak or paranoid or whatever. John Trudeau just rolls his eyes and says like, “Yeah, there he goes again. That is just the way he is. I can ignore that, everybody else will after a few hours of cable news coverage.” So I think there’s a point at which that just becomes less effective for any purpose. It’s just a “there he goes again” sort of thing.
[0:14:17.4] JP: One of the things that I think is an important element of negotiation is the value of implementing a deal. So in the end, you have people who are signed on that you’ve had a process that was worthwhile that people think you are going to follow through. Do you see this as an area of concern for Trump? Do you think that because of his paradoxical, kind of chaotic manner in which he negotiates that ultimate follow through in a negotiation could be a problem?
[0:14:50.3] BB: That is a good question. I think there are risks. There may be more or less of his negotiation style and more of the fact that and I say this without rancor here, he just isn’t all that knowledgeable about the complexities of policy. And so you combine that relatively limited knowledge of policy detail with the inclination to speak so impulsively, it is easy to imagine him inadvertently sabotaging the implementation of things just without directly wanting to do so.
And it’s clear that from the reporting we get that a lot of his aides spend a lot of time trying to prevent that from happening and I don’t think we have seen this yet where that is going off the rails but there is still plenty of time.
[0:15:31.8] LP: And I’ll concur, my comment is going to be I don’t think he is the implementer. I think it’s his staff trying to save him and the ability in my mind makes some of this deals work and is still kind of present the way some of the negotiations are going on or heavily in the backroom from staff and other people who are trying to guide him and gear him in certain ways and also trying to implement and keep our relationships and our deals credible on some level.
[0:16:05.9] JP: So given what we’ve talked about in terms of Trump’s style and common kind of tactics that he uses, if you were a counterpart, if you were either someone in the senate, if you are Mitch McConnell, if you’re the Canadian Prime Minister, what would you say as possible suggestions for how to work with a negotiator that works like Trump, with his style?
[0:16:35.2] BB: Well obviously we know from so much reporting around and out of the White House that he is just somebody who lives to be fawned over and complimented. He’s got a low level of style, one must always I guess apease in that way but I think he is very much about winning, right? I mean that is his word. He does seem to want to do deals in order to be able to claim victory. He loves claiming victory and celebrating victory.
So if I am negotiating with him and I really do want to deal. I want to create a deal in such a way that it comes away feeling as though he’s won. Whether he has or hasn’t and what that looks like will probably depend on the particular deal making context but I think if I am on the other side of the table, I want to think about the fact that my goal here is to get as much as I want for myself while making him think he won and making him as though he can credibly claim that he won.
[0:17:27.5] JP: Linda, do you have anything to add?
[0:17:29.2] LP: I mean, you look at some of the deals they’re not all that different. I mean I think if I were certainly in the NAFTA negotiations that is exactly what I would do what Bruce said because when it comes down to the final settlement itself, we may not be so radically different than it was originally but he’s taking credit for it and he just rails the Obama eras and the previous presidents of which he wants to stand apart from and so that is another tactic to make him be apart. And from any other kinds of settlements that previous presidents have had.
Looking at our little negotiation books and guidelines, one of the things people would say is change the game. That is not so easy to do with him. He is really slippery and I think it is hard to change the game and to come at him somewhat differently or just to continue to ignore the intimidation or what is operating, I think that is going on right now but to really use a new kind of way in defining what the negotiation is about or changing the name of the game and what we are talking about and dealing with, I think it is very difficult for him.
I think he is using team negotiation and if I were some of his opponents, I would engage in a little more of that too because I think that dispels – it carries to the backroom and it helps craft the settlement.
[0:18:52.4] BB: I want to throw one other thought here Jen. One of the things that was said about him a lot when he first took office maybe during the first year of his presidency was he goes with the last idea that he hears. He hears all of this, he hears positions and things and whoever gets to him last he’s the one that has the greatest effect. We haven’t heard much about that so much in the last year and I’ll assume it’s probably still true on some level.
And so if I am giving advice to somebody who is going to negotiate with or on the other side of the table in front of him, it would be to think carefully about the timing of your conversation and the way in which we can create the opportunity to get to him later rather than earlier in the process. He is a recency guy not a primacy guy and so thinking about the timing because of that maybe something that would help.
[0:19:39.2] JP: Great.
[0:19:39.8] LP: Well I was just going to comment going back to Barry’s point about the domestic and the internal. I think he controls the frame. This has been really difficult in this post-truth era and if I were to wage something for the congressional side or something they have never got a handle on the framing and their leadership is always in a response to and I would think that one better way to deal with him is to try to get the framing of the issues in their direction instead of his. Hard to do but they continue to follow his lead.
[0:20:20.7] JP: To wrap this up a little bit and to think about the original prompt for our podcast which is, “Is Trump a Good Negotiator?” You know what is the best thing you could say that Trump does in his negotiating and would you answer the question as to is he a good negotiator, is that something we can answer?
[0:20:39.6] BB: Two things I think that I would say that are interesting and that he does well. One is I like the fact that he ignores precedent. He is not overly guided by how things have been done in the past and that maybe a comment less on him as a negotiator and more on him in terms of the political communications and strategy. I happen to think that this is not an ideological statement here but I happen to think a lot of political communication, negotiation is guided too much, the way it’s always been done. And he is clearly not really wedded to that and that’s produced a few I think conversations especially on the international stage that are worth having.
The other thing I’ll say, you know one of the classic pieces of getting to yes advice, separate the person from the problem. For as nasty and vindictive as he can be personally at people, he actually I think obeys that piece of advice quite a bit because he gets over it really quickly. He can insult somebody and make the person part of the problem one minute but then just move on you know and move onto the next encounter or the next negotiation and forget that ever happened and there are times that is a strategically good thing to do.
[0:21:49.1] JP: And that is an interesting point too because it seems like he might be able to let it go really quickly but he uses it as a tactic and I am not sure other people let it go.
[0:21:58.0] BB: Well yeah, there’s that.
[0:21:59.5] JP: That’s currently going on, yeah interesting point. Do you think Trump is a good negotiator?
[0:22:04.4] BB: Is he a good negotiator? Obviously you can do a long answer to that but we beg the question which has been a question that’s been argued about for years in our literature which is, how do you judge what is successful negotiation? Do you take it purely as these sort of negotiated economic and political, in this case, outcomes of the negotiation or do you take more of a subjective value approach and look at it as the effect on relationships and satisfaction of other parties and such?
Because I suspect from a subjective value perspective, it is a real mixed bag and that is maybe being polite but from a gain perspective for the kinds of things that a president negotiates, it is hard to assess that in the near term. He’s had some wins. So sometimes he’s successful and effective but he’s also had a lot of not wins which he might claim as wins but you know, look at for example his negotiations with his congressional leaders and stuff on the health care. He’s got nothing done on health care.
So really it is too soon to tell if he is an effective negotiator as president I think because so little happens in the short range and so few outcomes are discernible. So you’ll have to ask me that again in a couple of years.
[0:23:15.6] JP: All right, great. I will and I will definitely come back and look at that at the end of his presidency. Linda?
[0:23:21.9] LP: I would say he’s good in some ways but I think he is short term. He’s a short term negotiator and so the long haul is going to be the repercussions and the relationships and the loss of allies and various things like that is going to be the long haul. So in the short term, maybe yes. In the long term, I am going to guess no but that is just my prognosis.
[0:23:48.1] JP: Good, yes. Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
[0:23:54.7] BB: It’s my great pleasure to do.
[0:23:55.8] JP: Thank you so much.
[0:23:56.8] LP: Bye-bye.[END]
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