Perspectives from a Mediator/Arbitrator

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Thoughts on bargaining

Thoughts on bargaining - from the perspectives of a parent, child and mediator

Recently, a female president of a trade union told me of an experience she had in collective bargaining. At the end of a Friday session, it was suggested to her that the bargaining would continue on Saturday. She said no, she would return on Monday. She was a mother of young children and she would be spending the weekend with her family.

That got me to thinking about how our life and life experiences determine our approaches to bargaining whether that is collective bargaining or any other type of bargaining. As a parent of two young children, I am quite familiar with the shrewd bargaining tactics of children. After speaking to many other parents, I think the child's approach of "keep asking until you get the answer you want" is fairly universal. It is a bargaining tactic of simply trying by repetition to wear down the other side until you get what you want. Another tactic that will be familiar to any adult who lives in a home with a child where there are two adult decision makers is the "ask the one you think will give the answer you want" approach. Again, a rather simple approach used in all types of bargaining of trying to figure who is "most likely to say yes" and then going from there.

As adults, we like to think that we bargain differently than children but in many ways we do not.
Many adults use the keep asking approach or the ask the person who will give the answer you want. Another approach that is used by both children and adults is the "waiting for the deadline before I will move approach".

At a mediation recently, one of the plaintiff's first questions was - what is the deadline? A very sensible question. He wanted to know when the bargaining was going to get serious and how long the bargaining process was going to be. He knew, as I did, that the bargaining was not likely to get serious until the parties were at or near the deadline. In many situations, parties are able to conclude bargaining without a deadline but more often than not, the creation of a deadline is crucial to arriving at a bargain. Sometimes that deadline has to be created artificially other times it is real.

In the collective bargaining session involving the parent of young children, the president of the bargaining unit was making two things very clear. First, she believed that nothing was going to change whether the next session was Saturday or Monday. Second, if and when the deadline did come it was not going to be at a time that was likely to interfere with her duties as a parent.


  • Read your whole blog, and I thought this was your best post. Funny that it appears to have been your first!?

    There's an interesting intersection here with your latest post (as of today) about the danish sports guy and the parties needing to get to arbitration because they were too dug into their positions to deal with the issue productively... sounds familiar.

    By Anonymous scrappy, at 12:34 p.m.  

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