An Interesting Dichotomy

In the 2016 election cycle we are witness to more than the usual polar opposites of candidate positions – we are witnessing the clash of two very different styles of approaching how to win an election. While not on totally opposite poles, these two are about as far apart in tactics as any two processes can be that seek the same goal – that of winning an election.

In a traditional campaign model, successful candidates disclose from the early stages of the campaign what their positions are and defend those positions. They seek to draw as many people who agree with those position as possible to their cause, organize those supporters into a structured group to assist in convincing those who are likely to support those same positions to come on board. While an election can be won on force of personality, it is atypical to do so without at least a core of ideas the campaign effort is organized around. An election campaign is more about agreeing with actions based on principles than it is about the specific candidate. To garner support, you often have to open your kimono to the public which opens you to attack from your opponents.

In a negotiation, successful negotiators initially disclose as little about their position as possible, thrusting and parrying as need be to try to ascertain the opponent’s points of strength and weakness. Due diligence is treated as a court proceeding, only the questions asked are answered (no explaining is done) and only the information agreed to is supplied. Yes or no answers are answered wit a yes or a not – nothing more, nothing less. As the negotiation continues, only the minimal amounts of detail is disclosed – only enough to keep the negotiation moving forward to the next stage. This is a tactic commonly used in negotiations to prevent your opponent from getting you pinned down – you start out very, very vague and only when you are close enough to see the deal moving toward your goal, you add little bits of detail.

To maximize your position and minimize what your opponent has to work with, you want to agree to as little as possible – just enough to get your opponent to keep moving toward a close. You do so because you want to keep as many options open as possible until the deal actually closes and the ink is dry. Your kimono stays closed and belted at all times. You try never to give your opponent an opportunity to land a punch.

As I’ve noted before, unpredictability is also an advantage in a negotiation – as long as you can keep the talks moving, it is an advantage that your opponent cannot figure out your next step. A classic example of this is when Nixon was negotiating to open up China – the Chinese were genuinely afraid of him because he created the image of unpredictability – they came to the table because they thought he was batcrap crazy and would actually do the things he said he would do.

However, a lack of predictability bordering on chronic inconsistency is not a positive in the midst of an election effort. In most cases, it happens to be a campaign killer because it shifts the attention from established position on issues to the personal qualities of the candidate – something much harder to defend and overcome. Constantly changing positions and random acts of political violence against supporters and opponents alike create an image of a candidate who is unsure of their own beliefs, insecure, untrustworthy and disloyal to their supporters.

Where the former model is a team effort based on support and defense of common principles and beliefs, the latter model tends to be about trusting the individual who is doing the negotiating, that they have the same goals as you do and that they will maximize your shared positions in any eventual win.

Unpredictability can be overcome – but it takes a full on cult of personality/zombie following to do it, and in the past, it has still required a modicum of constancy of position. Will the drip, drip disclosure of the negotiation model win out over clearly staked out and publicly held positions of the traditional campaign model? Who knows…what I do know is that it will be interesting to see how these two approaches play out.

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