Negotiation tactics from the President: a what not to do.

Abask Marketing
5 min readAug 24, 2017

This week President Trump threatened to shut down the government if they don’t approve spending for the Mexican border wall. This isn’t likely to happen the way it’s laid out by Trump, but that’s par for the course.

It’s much more likely the situation will be postponed somehow or that there will be an alternative method that Trump will then spin as his great idea and his plan all along. But, the threat itself is what fascinates me. It is another example of Trump’s poor negotiation skills and today I’m going to show where he went so terribly wrong. Actually, I don’t have time for that, so I’ll simply stick to a few instances of where he went terribly wrong.

Showing all your cards at the start of the game.

I’ve played card games with children before. They show their cards in order to get help and you have to decide whether to beat them without mercy or let them win and potentially raise children with no backbones.

When Trump told the people that Mexico would pay for the wall, he showed his cards.

Imagine if I went to a community meeting and told the whole community that I was going to redo all my landscaping and have my neighbor pay for it. My neighbor is going to tell me to go F myself and there’s no way I can change his mind (without using bullying tactics, which is what Trump is used to) because if he caves, he’ll be seen as weak to the rest of the community. If I had been a little more vague, there might have been a chance that I could have the neighbor pay for all of the landscaping (not likely as this would take some super negotiation skills to make him think it is his idea) or I might have been able to split the cost (more likely and this should be my BATNA).

Always have a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

Trump pushed himself against a wall (pun intended) when he threatened to shut down the government. Any alternative now will come at a loss to the president’s credibility in front of millions of US citizens and the world, regardless of how he spins it on Twitter. A bully only has two options: win or lose. If he came at the “negotiation” with a tad more finesse, Trump might be able to make a deal with his fellow politicians that doesn’t result in a shut down and make less waves amongst all people (a shut down would piss off citizens, most likely cause marches/ riots between Trump supporters and Trump opposers once again, and give Republicans and Democrats more fodder to push the President out), gets his “wall” (it may not be the wall that he originally planned).

Having a benchmark of what you will accept as a minimum, and keeping that benchmark to yourself, means you can negotiate and win without letting the other side know they lost (technically, you may both win and that’s perfect, but we’re mostly concerned with you!)

Visualize your success

This kind of doubles with having a BATNA. If you can’t visualize how your success in this negotiation will play out, there’s little chance that it will play out at all. For example, Trump threatens shut down of government if wall isn’t approved. How is he going to come out of this unscathed? It’s going back to the bully mentality: he can only come out unscathed if he wins outright. And the chances of that happening without long-term consequences that will also hurt his reputation are slim: it’s going to cost $1.6 BILLION dollars to build the wall. Mexico isn’t paying. So, tax payers (which may or may not include Donald Trump — who knows?) will pay. They will also pay for the increase in spending for veterans’ care and military pay, the increase in spending for Afghanistan, the increase in spending for missile defense,the increase in spending for secret service,the increase in spending of Presidential travel, and all of this spending and more goes against “spending limits set by an earlier budget law.” I don’t see a successful outcome here.

Trump has what the Dale Carnegie school calls a “Lion” style of conflict management (and I use the term “management” loosely)

“This style values ‘winning the point’ more than the relationship. They see conflict as a competition. ‘I know they’ll come around once they see my point.’ It’s an ‘I win/you lose position.”(2)

The “I” in this case is Donald Trump. The “you” is the rest of us.

So what do we learn that we can use in sales communication?

  • Ask for what you want in somewhat vague terms. Avoid flaunting specifics like, “”I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me — and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” (3) Instead, change the tune to be about bulking up security on southern borders to increase safety to all.
  • Let the other party bring something to the table so that they feel equal. Threats put the other side on the defensive and you may end up with a lose/ lose.
  • Know the minimum you will accept and the steps above that you are hoping for.
  • Play the long game. Imagine what might happen if you win AND what might happen if you lose. Winning is not always the best option once you see the fallout.



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