Last week Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the conservative news agency Newsmax Media, wrote in The New York Times that President Trump's bluster is strategic. E.g., he begins by promising he'll stop allowing China to "rape our country," and eventually China, where Ruddy has been traveling, comes around to a stronger position on North Korea. And so on.
Ruddy, who has been traveling in China and has heard ordinary Chinese people call Trump "strong," concludes:
[Trump's] theatrical persona, his rallies and his hyperbolic tweets have become the “big stick” he waves from his transformed bully pulpit.
Through his message he has moved markets, steered global business in a better direction for American companies and defended American workers. He has also put bad actors, domestic and foreign, on notice.
Even I do not agree with everything the president says or does. But we should be willing to recognize that, at times, he can be very effective. The Chinese have.
Even though I do not agree with much of anything the president says or does, I am willing to consider this point. In fact, I already have—in a 2011 post here, about the communication style of Barack Obama, politely titled, "POTUS is no pussy: my theory of President Obama's negotiating style."
I'm always fielding assaults from my left—and sometimes from myself—saying President Obama is a "pussy," a "wimp," a "coward" or a "bad negotiator." On healthcare, on gays in the military, on taxes for the rich.
What am I defending? I'm starting to think it's his negotiating style more than his policies.
My old pal Tommy is a contractor, and a tough negotiator, no doubt about it. I love to listen to him chew people up on the phone. When he haggles, he starts hundreds or thousands of dollars lower than I would have dared. And he does things like, if he sees a clause in the contract he didn't agree to, just crosses the clause out, signs the thing and faxes it back. It's impressive. He's a good businessman, and he's made a lot of money.
He's seen me negotiate, too. And when it's all over, he calls me a "dumbass."
Which stings, I won't kid you. And I used to concede the point. But now I'm not so sure I do.
Here's how I go about getting what I need: I very carefully figure out what I think the job is worth—what it's worth to me, to the employer and to the market. Usually those are three different numbers, and compromising must be done. But I do most of the compromsing, in my head.
So when it comes time to tell the employer or client what I will and won't work for, I present the number that I really believe makes sense—not an outrageous first roundhouse that will inevitably be answered angrily by a hard left hook, and then counter-offered back and forth until both sides, like punch drunk boxers, are left to hold each other up in the center of the ring.
When I do this my way, over the long haul (and I keep clients over long hauls) the client comes to understand that my initial offer isn't very far from my bottom line. So the counteroffer, if it comes, doesn't come in too low.
I've made a pretty good living as a freelance writer over the last dozen years, in some pretty tough general economic times and the journalism-business equivalent of the Great Depression. Though I've certainly left some money on the table, especially on short-term gigs where I might have gouged some clients (a couple of whom probably deserved it), I think I've gotten a fair amount for my skills and the energy I've given, and I simply don't believe a better negotiating style would have significantly improved my income.
Why do I negotate in this polite and rational manner? My shrink might have another theory, but here's mine:
I don't like seeming unreasonable in negotiations with people who need me to be reasonable once they hire me.
I think that's more or less Obama's theory, too. I'm not sure it's always the right theory—there's a chance that both of us behave the way we do because we're adult children of alcoholics, or something—but I do appreciate how he goes about it.
If he's afraid of something, it's not Republicans: It's being seen by others as unfair, or insane.
Maybe I'm not defending Obama, as much as I'm defending myself.
Maybe I should stop.
(But it's in my nature.)
Since I wrote that I've become a business owner. "Business owner," in the original Latin, meant something like, "ferrel, rabid, desperate, cornered wolverine."
Yet, I think everyone who works for me or teaches frequently for the PSA would tell you my negotiating m.o. hasn't changed. Essentially and basically: Think about what's right and reasonable and sustainable—and propose it.
I could have driven a few harder bargains in my first year of business. But I might not have such friends and loyal partners, now in my second.
If you communicate as if life is essentially a war and a power struggle, then your life will certainly be a war and a power struggle.
If you communicate on more peaceful terms and with more gentle words—you have a chance for a peaceful and happy existence, surrounded by people who love you, and people you love.
I believe that.