Amid the theater and drama surrounding the very real conflict around the 2013 government shutdown, the Affordable Health Care Act implementation and other events in Washington DC, we are a little surprised here at HSCT to hear one word fall consistently from our government leaders’ lips:



As in, “I won’t negotiate without serious reform on the table.”


“I won’t talk to [Insert name of politician/political party here] until they make a serious offer for change.”

Now, part of our role here at HSCT is to teach people how to negotiate. We teach how to navigate stonewalling, interests, judgments about the future, risk tolerance, and time preference. In addition, we cover lessons around framing, communication and the use of deceptive tactics.

We’re also not naïve to the whims and modes of American political history and realize that there have been “budget battles” in Washington DC that looked intractable, but that eventually produced workable compromises between governing parties.

However, nowhere in our training or in our experiences, were we ever taught to not negotiate until the other party became “serious” and made an offer we could live with before beginning the bargaining process.

This all kind of puts us in mind of The Joker in The Dark Night .

He didn’t want to negotiate until Batman was “serious” either. And yet, somehow, negotiations (such as it were in the film) moved forward anyway.

And that’s what has us so surprised.

After all of the bluffing, deception, and everything else, we are absolutely sure that the debt ceiling, the government shutdown and the Affordable Health Care Act implementation will be resolved one way or another.

But, when people in power harden their positions—as do their followers, the pundits and the casual observers—the chances that, to paraphrase from The Joker “everything burns,” become that much more possible.

Why then, is there such emphasis on “serious?”

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
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