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How Positional Negotiation Can Damage Agendas with Dr. Joshua Weiss, Ep #70

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We’re getting political at Negotiations Ninja as Dr. Joshua Weiss—a conflict resolution and negotiations expert—joins us to talk about the wall. Dr. Weiss talks about the current situation in Washington and the growing tensions between Democrats and Republicans. How did we get here in the first place? How has positional negotiation backed both sides into a wall?

Dr. Weiss shares tactics both parties can employ to diffuse a potential political war as one shutdown ends with a possible state of emergency looming ahead. He also shares why the positional approach each side is taking should be dropped in favor of an interest-based approach. Tune in to this episode to hear how Dr. Joshua Weiss would advise both parties to create a deal that works.

Outline of This Episode

  • [2:48] Learn all about Dr. Joshua Weiss
  • [5:27] How did we reach a government shutdown?
  • [10:17] Positional negotiation vs. interest-based negotiation
  • [13:44] Is there a simple solution for a complicated problem?
  • [22:37] What Dr. Weiss thinks the best and worst-case scenarios are
  • [27:10] How to remove your ego from the negotiation equation
  • [30:55] How to follow and connect with Dr. Joshua Weiss

How did we reach a government shutdown?

Negotiations started in September 2017 when there were several proposed deals on the table as part of a “grander bargain”. Democrats believed there would be a path forward for DACA recipients to get their citizenship in exchange for border security funding. Long story short, eighteen months later—no deal for DACA recipients, no funding for “The Wall” or other border security funding, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, and a potential state of emergency brewing.

How did they get here? Positional negotiation. Positional negotiation is when you take a firm stance and don’t budge, i.e., “I want a wall.” The other side says, “You’re not gonna have a wall.” Both sides dig in their heels and creative approaches are neglected. This negotiation style can work in real-estate deals, which is what Donald Trump is used to. He’s trying to apply the negotiation tactics he’s familiar with to his role, which is why he isn’t seeing the success people thought he might. The wrong approach to negotiation is being used and both parties are caught in a spiral.

There are a whole host of ways both sides can reach a smart and comprehensive deal to “Keep America safe.”

Positional negotiation vs. interest-based negotiation

Dr. Weiss points out that in any deal, both sides have to save face. Both sides need to come out saying, “I’ve won.” But when neither side wants to compromise, what do they need to do? Come up with a deal to allow them to say, “Look what we’ve got.”

Negotiating the wall is just one piece. A wall won’t change things dramatically. There need to be security resources. There has to be a focus on asylum and refugees. Is there a better way to do things? They need to think about underlying motivations and needs that could be negotiated.

There’s a way of framing the argument differently to make it more palatable. Some Democrats are for walls in key spots on parts of the border. Does it have to be all or nothing? If you’re familiar with the data around immigration, you’ll know that 60% of immigrants come to the country through ports of destination. Is there a simple solution for a complicated problem?

It’s not about just getting to yes—it’s about getting to the right yes. You have to see the problem in a multi-factorial way and address each thing carefully to advance.


There’s a significant amount of ego on either side of the “wall.” Both sides need to be mature. It’s not about them and what they can achieve. It’s about what they can achieve for the people. But when you engage in positional negotiation, you engage in a rigid, often unproductive position.

Will setting a clear deadline change the dynamic? Can they shift toward a more interest-based approach?

What Dr. Weiss would advise each side to do

A good first step is for Democrats and Republicans to stop talking about the negotiations to the media. Dr. Weiss argues a halt to negotiating in the press gives much more room for creativity and tangible, effective problem solving going forward.

What’s the best-case scenario? Dr. Weiss argues it’s no further government shutdowns and a smart plan for immigration reform. Then what’s the worst-case scenario? Perhaps another government shutdown, a state of emergency, and hundreds of thousands of government workers not getting paid. So what do both parties need to do to make sure the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen?

Listen to the whole discussion with Dr. Weiss to hear where he thinks this government standstill will end.

Resources & People Mentioned

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