Negotiations with Hostage-takers

… such as Boehner and McConnell, operate by their own set of rules. The Democratic Strategist offers some useful reflections, along with an actual law-enforcement guide to dealing with the more ordinary variety of extortionist, referred to as a “hostage-taker” (HT).

Key points:

* The first priority is to isolate and contain the HT.

*Set the standard of mature, adult conversation from the outset.

* Allow productive venting, but deflect dangerous escalation of speech tone and content … Allow [the HT] to freely express his frustrations and disappointments, but don’t let venting become ranting or spewing, which can lead to further loss of control.

* Hostages represent power and control to the hostage taker, so try not to do anything that will remind him of this fact.

* Make the HT work for everything he gets by extracting a concession … don’t give anything without getting something in return.

* Don’t solicit demands; don’t give anything not explicitly asked for; and don’t deliver more than absolutely necessary to fulfill the request. The conventional wisdom is to never say “no” to a demand, but that’s not the same as saying yes. The negotiator’s job is to deflect, postpone, and modify.

* Always be looking ahead to the next incident.

So far, looks as if Obama & Co. have been reading the manual. But the nature of the GOP will make a couple of points really hard:

* Compliment the HT for any positive actions he’s taken so far. If the HT does something constructive, reinforce it. The aim here is to establish a pattern of constructive actions that allow the HT to reap repeated positive reinforcement, leading ultimately to his surrender with no further injuries to anyone.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.