Additional studies , such as one by George Washington University’s Charles B. Craver, have found that when parties collaborate, the size of the pie can increase by 400 percent—that is, the end value of the deal can be four times better than it would have been otherwise. Partisan attacks do not create this value; brainstorming does. There is no “us v. them” when all of us are facing a common crisis.
Part of what created such an early impasse between the parties is that they began the talks over hard issues like Medicare and taxes that immediately promoted conflict. These are too big, with too many constituencies. Starting with easy things would have created a sense of accomplishment and motivation: Cut the waste found by the GAO; negotiate with lenders to reschedule debt; provide incentives (like a small percentage of the value) for groups and individuals who find new revenue or savings; publish a daily debt reduction graphic, with $2 trillion in cuts as the goal.
Stuart Diamond, a professor of negotiation at The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of “Getting More: How To Negotiate To Meet Your Goals In The Real World” (Random House/Crown Business, 2010).
And yet instead Washington is trying to solve the whole thing at once, which only increases complexity, perceived risk, time and failed agreements. Scalpels are almost always better than sledgehammers, and Congress could have taken a few months to cut $2 trillion thoughtfully through a series of small, incremental steps that are both easier to accept and less risky.
This doesn’t mean, though, that the two parties should shy away from the very viewpoints that make them distinct. Disagreement in work groups promotes creativity and produces three times as many marketable ideas as consensus groups. However, it’s not just the extreme statements that cause conflict and should be avoided. In high-stakes situations, people often interpret things in the worst light. What you say is often different from what they hear. For example, when one party urges an “adult” conversation, the other party can hear it as being called children. It is critical for political leaders to recheck their statements, rather than lash out with a knee-jerk reaction, if we’re to move anywhere toward compromise.
Capturing people’s positive imagination is the most persuasive tool out there: It gets politicians elected, customers to buy things and professionals to succeed. And yet it’s infighting, not vision, that has characterized the debt debate. Negotiations will only work if both parties frame this as a ‘War on Debt,’ a World War II –like crisis that evokes an America that is strong, independent and creative. It’s not rocket science, but it will work. It will give Republicans and Democrats what most Americans desperately seek: leadership. And leadership is very persuasive.