The Downside of Collaborative Strategies

Liberals tend to believe that most conflicts can be resolved by showing the other party that they are reasonable and want only what's best for everyone. On the surface, they appear to be collaborating, working hard to reach an agreement that everyone can support.

However, since liberals aren't really interested in the other party's proposals, this is a false collaboration, or a fraud. This is the essential conflict that many "goodhearted" liberals have. They want to believe that they are open to other views, but in their heart of hearts, they know they aren't.

Regardless, the collaborative approach appears to have worked very well in negotiations with those Republicans who are anxious to "discuss" any issue and (hopefully) reach a win-win solution. To paraphrase a statement that we have heard many times: "After all, we don't want to appear unreasonable."

Therefore, Republicans come to the table ready to negotiate, even willing to compromise on critical issues. The Democrats -- especially liberal Democrats -- have no intention of backing off from their basic position. They see no reason to. After all, what they want is in the best interest of everyone, and it is always the Republicans who are stopping necessary progress. Take for example the problems with the initial "Stimulus Package." In spite of the fact that Democrats essentially have complete control of both houses of Congress, Obama blamed the Republicans:

The Senate adjourned tonight without a deal and planned to try again Friday to pass a bill. As he awaited a final Senate vote, President Obama admonished Republicans for standing in the way of legislation for which he once had hopes of winning broad bipartisan support.

Note that the reporter used the word "admonished," which means that the Republicans had an obligation to do what was "right." Liberals believe that they have already considered all of the alternatives and "know" that what they want is best for all concerned. As Obama said:

I think when we spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.

The belief that he knows what's best is one of the attributes that made Obama so willing to sit down with the leaders of Venezuela, Syria, Iran, and others without preconditions. He seems to believe that nothing can be hurt by sitting down and talking. He believes that some progress might even be made from the endeavor.

Liberals have a basic, core belief that there are no "bad guys" -- just disagreements.

Rush Limbaugh mentioned this tendency of Obama's in comments regarding the release of the CIA memos:

Maybe Obama thinks ... that al-Qaeda is going to read this memo and understand that Obama released it and maybe he thinks that terrorists around the world are going to conclude, "Hey, the United States is okay now! We don't need to attack them."  That's naïve.

So, we have two basic approaches here: On the one hand, there is a strong belief that sitting down with our enemies and working through the issues can bring about a solution in the best interests of everyone involved; while on the other hand, there is the belief that talking to our enemies is a complete waste of time.

The problem here is a lack of understanding concerning negotiation and/or conflict resolution.

Let's assume for the moment that the liberals really want to do an honest collaboration. If they aren't genuinely committed to this, then the problems magnify beyond the scope of this article.

There are five basic styles of conflict resolution: compromise, avoid, compete, accommodate, and collaborate.

Most liberals believe that working toward collaboration (also known as the win-win negotiation) is the best way to go in regard to international politics, and they will strive for it under almost any condition. This appears to be how many in our diplomatic corps see the conflicting issues we have with our "enemies."

However, this contention has a couple of major flaws. First, of the five styles, collaboration is by far the most difficult to attain. Collaboration, requires complete trust and respect between the two parties. A simple example would be a difficult divorce case: Without the trust and respect that existed early in the relationship, collaboration is just not possible. There is no desire to achieve a win-win solution.

Second, within a negotiation, or when trying to achieve conflict resolution with people who are competing, winning isn't possible using any other strategy. Going back to our divorcing couple, if one is "out for blood," the other will lose unless he or she can be as tough in the negotiation. In other words, when negotiating with a competitor, there is no choice except to compete.

Competitors are not interested in anything except winning. Their only objective is to destroy the competition. In order to achieve that goal, they will use every tool (ethical or unethical) at their disposal. The approach is extremely Machiavellian; in other words, anything and everything --including lying, cheating, and beyond -- is okay as long as the objective is attained.

Again, none of the other styles have a chance against the competitor. This is especially true with competitors who honestly (even if mistakenly) believe that their position is the "right" one.

Avoiders will see the opportunity pass them by as competitors move ahead, with no regard for the "need" to make a considered decision.

Compromisers, quickly discover that they have done all of the compromising and that the competitors have not given up anything in return.

Accommodators find themselves giving in, time after time, while competitors never budge an inch.

And, collaborators, in striving for a win-win solution, almost always believe that progress is being made as minor issues are agreed upon, but in the long run, even these minor agreements are broken by competitors. Collaborators soon discover that they have actually lost ground, with nothing to show for all of their efforts.

This is the myth of the win-win negotiation. Without trust and respect from both parties, collaboration is not possible. And when you are up against a competitor, the only effective strategy is to become a competitor. All other strategies will be ineffective, with frustration as the only reward.

So the willingness to negotiate is important. Nothing can be achieved without getting together and working toward an agreement, and conflict resolution is central to negotiation (after all, negotiations are needed only when there is conflict). However, striving for collaboration before attaining a high level of trust and respect is almost always a mistake. And trying to "reason" with a competitor is placing oneself on the pathway to defeat.

Brad Fregger is the proprietor of