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Mickey Edwards
Political leader

Mickey Edwards

Former U.S. Congressman, Mickey Edwards is vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs the Institute's Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership.

In negotiation, don't give away too much

Question: In approaching the coming Congressional budget battle, House Republican leaders have decided to forsake the bipartisan center and bow to the spending-cut demands of the most conservative members of their caucus. This mirrors the strategy of House Democratic leaders who, in the previous session, accommodated the demands of their most liberal members on key issues, only to lose power in the next election. Is it more effective for leaders to demonstrate a willingness to compromise early on, or to stake out a hard line in the hope of compromising less later?

Compromise is important, but in negotiation it is important not to give away too much at the outset. If I start at position A, and you start at position Z, we will gradually move toward each other--soon I'll be at C and you'll be at X. And eventually, if we're fairly evenly matched and equally committed to our positions, we'll end up somewhere close to one of us at M and one at N, give or take a letter or two. But if you start at Z and I start at G, and we move toward each other from that starting point, we'll end up far closer to your starting point than mine, which makes it an unwise approach to negotiating. I don't think of it as "a hard line": I think of it as each side openly stating its desired outcome and then working to end up with a settlement as close to that outcome as possible.

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By Mickey Edwards

 |  February 15, 2011; 12:37 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Compromise: Strength, weakness or a way of the past? | Next: Prepare the caucus for letdown


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The United States operates under a system of representative democracy, a principle which functions only when the needs of the majority are represented. This allows for the system to operate effectively, looking beyond the dividing segregation between the houses. But of important notice is this idea that compromise can weaken a proposed policy initiative. Ideally, opponents start on the extreme ends of a proposed policy strategy, and carefully, slowly, move towards a compromise which would rest towards the center or as former Congressman Mickey Edwards states, "M and one at N, give or take a letter or two."

What often happens, and what has been observed recently, is this idea of stalemate. As time continues on, disputes arise, inaction breeds, and rarely do things that need to be accomplished, actually come to realization. This translates into the voting turnouts of citizens at the next election. Often times, the current compilation of legislators is blamed for not returning results, and are thus unseated from their positions. With this changeover, newer sometimes unseasoned representatives take the place of longstanding politicians, and thus, stalemate increases and the progressive policy nature that should be implemented stalls.

In the end, true leadership rests on valuing the opinions and interests of the representative whole. This can only be achieved through efforts of compromising or ideology-bending, at least in the sense that there is a greater good that needs to be addressed.

Posted by: sherrylin | February 18, 2011 3:22 AM
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A good leader should be able to do both. He or she should be able to vacillate between compromising early on and keeping a hard line in hopes for compromising later. In this instance, the compromises made by the House Republican leaders could result in them losing power in the next election. Although they may lose influence over the next election, the economic climate of our country calls for drastic action at this point. Make no mistake, progress has been made in this regard by the Obama regimen, however, progress is slow if not stagnant. The deficit is still out of control (and it seems as though no one knows just how bad it is), and the small compromises that have been made by the House Republican leaders are not going to solve the problem in the big picture. Compromise at this stage is a good sign, but at some point, compromises will have to transform into sacrifices if the deficit is ever to be settled.

Posted by: dorianhicks | February 18, 2011 1:32 AM
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