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I have of course been observing the first days of Trump’s America with interest and trepidation, but also with the practiced eye of the negotiator. From that perspective, there is much to be concerned about:  the serial lying, the disregard for relationships, the narrow vision of what is possible, the ignorance of and disinterest in facts and the ironclad assumption that negotiation is always a win-lose game.

But in the tradition of empathy and positive framing, I also must ask myself what we can learn from this man who has just succeeded in negotiating his way to the most powerful position on earth.  Is there anything positive to be gleaned from the substance or style of Trumpian negotiation?  Over the Christmas holidays, I read The Art of the Deal (I am afraid we all should) for guidance.

I see three things, and call them the three Ps:  playfulness, perseverance and pancreas.

  1. Trump opens TAOTD with a paean to fun and play.  Negotiation should be fun, he says, don’t take it too seriously, that gives you power.  Now Trump’s play is malicious and destructive, but it is still play.  The sheepish smile when signing the presidential decrees, the theatrical announcement of the Gorsuch nomination, the choreographed dance with the hapless Theresa May:  this is a man-child who is having a very good time, certainly more than the serious and cerebral Obama. And that does indeed create power.

  2.  TAOTD goes on to admonish negotiators never to give up, to stick to it until victory is assured.  The various tales of New York real estate deals are all about indefatigable pestering of the other side, with charm and then with bullying, until they give in.  Trump has what the Germany call “Sitzfleisch”, or “staying power”, and we would do well to learn from that.

  3. Here I do not mean the actual organ, but the “gut” or “intuition” of the negotiator.  Does it feel right?   In previous blogs, I have explored the unplumbed depths of intuition, and Trump is certainly someone who operates from the gut rather than the head.  It seems to have served him amazingly well.  Sometimes we indeed think too much.

If we could only now embed all of this in a win-win mentality and anchor it to a  respect for ethics.  Perhaps that is something to hope for.

Comments welcome!

– Dr. Mark Young

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