Andrew Semmel: How to Negotiate Anything- Lessons Learned From the Capitol Leaders Program

by PSA Staff | December 8th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Executive Director Dr. Andrew Semmel discusses PSA’s Harvard Negotiation Program and its potential for building bipartisanship. Article written by Rebecca Gale and published by  Roll Call.

Capitol Leaders Program

Forty House and Senate foreign affairs and national security staffers came together recently at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs to learn the necessary skills to overcome gridlock in Congress. The program was organized by the Partnership for a Secure America and Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. The bridge to bipartisanship, it seems, will be built by cooperative staffers.

The bridge to bipartisanship, it seems, will be built by cooperative staffers.

But can such teamwork lessons be applied more broadly outside of a Harvard-sanctioned setting and in the halls of Congress? Yes, says Andrew Semmel, executive director of the Partnership for a Secure America. He shared his insights with Roll Call in a lightly edited Q and A.

Q: So you got 40 staffers in a room, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. How easy was it to cut through the rancor and find consensus?

A: On day one, we focused on several exercises and case studies that challenged the idea of negotiation being a zero-sum game — the “you win-I lose” calculus. Dissecting successful historic deals based on a collaborative model — including German reunification, the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and various corporate negotiations — helped establish a mindset on how to approach complex negotiations.

We believed, from the start, that most staff were tired and frustrated by congressional gridlock and low productivity and were eager to learn new skills and ways to improve the legislative process. We’re convinced, from our observations and analysis, that our initial beliefs were correct.

Q: The 40 staffers all came with foreign affairs backgrounds. Do you think foreign affairs is an issue area where partisanship is rampant? Why?

A: Foreign affairs is an area where partisanship exists, but it is not as rampant as in other policy areas. Policymakers generally have more latitude on foreign affairs than in domestic policy because voters are more disengaged on these issues.

Q: What surprised you most about the program?

A: “Active listening” was a surprisingly dominant theme over the course of the program. Humility, too, goes a long way in generating trust and strong relationships among negotiators. Case studies of the best negotiators demonstrated this time and again.

The other biggest surprise was the consistency of participation by staffers recruited for the program. We maintained a strict attendance policy, and they continued to arrive prepared and eager to engage with instructors and each other.

Q: What do you think was the greatest takeaway from the program?

A: That it is possible to create value during a negotiation so all parties can walk away with more than they thought they could achieve. The goal should be to increase the “size of the pie” first, and then negotiate dividing up the pie second.

Q: Why staffers? Do you think the partisan divide is greater at the staff level than at the member level?

A: U.S. congressional staff are more influential than in any other national legislature. Staffers are the gateway to members and help shape members’ views, priorities, and votes. To tackle gridlock and improve the culture of Congress, it is as important to work at the staff level as the member level.

The partisan divide may be less at the staff level. Staffers often live in or around D.C., enjoying more opportunities to interact across the aisle outside of the office. Fortunately, this provides fertile ground for building bipartisan relationships.

Q: How did you find staffers for the program?

A: For this program*, we recruited staffers responsible for national security and foreign policy issues in committee and personal offices — half Democrats and half Republicans, half House and half Senate.

Q. What would you recommend for staffers who want to improve their negotiation skills?

Negotiation skills are like any other skill — they improve with use. A staffer who is interested in improving his or her skills should proactively and consciously engage in negotiations wherever they occur. Remember to actively listen to understand the other party’s underlying interests behind a position, offer ideas for “expanding the pie” in a deal, and prepare, prepare, prepare with research on the issue and the other party. Help those across the table reach an agreement that works for you and them. Finally, keep in mind the words of Italian diplomat Daniele Vare, who said negotiation is “the art of letting them have your way.”

Q: Did staffers explain their reasons for partisanship? What was a common theme that emerged?

A: Staffers are as frustrated as many Americans by meaningless partisanship that yields no results. Many staff follow the lead of their members, and there is hiring selectivity that reinforces prevailing views. Compromise has become a dirty word. Staff (and members) must realize that today’s adversary can be tomorrow’s ally, and building good relations is central to success.

Q: With the wave election ushering in new staffers this January, what is the best piece of advice you would give them on how to negotiate most effectively?

A: Forging strong relationships with staffers from other offices — especially across the aisle — will be absolutely essential. Ninety percent of the work of a successful negotiator is building good rapport, credibility and trust with your counterparts within and between parties. But don’t wait until you need something to reach out to people. Establish those connections and solidify relationships even before there’s a negotiation on the horizon. Find out who the important players on your issues are — what offices, what committees — and reach out just to introduce yourself. Make an effort to meet them in person. Lunch lines, staff trips and after-hour social activities all play a part. This is very time consuming, but you will make a great impression and position yourself well to become an influential Capitol Hill staffer.

*Staffers interested in participating in a future negotiation session should contact Nathan Sermonis at sermonis@psaonline.org.

Lee Hamilton: Lobbyists the New Fourth Branch of Government

by PSA Staff | November 19th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board of Directors Member and current director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton, discusses the influence of lobbying groups in American politics. The Rock River Times Op-Ed

The Power of Lobbyists 

Because of its power to influence public affairs, the press has long been known as “the Fourth Estate.” But I think the media may have been displaced. These days, it’s lobbyists who seem to carry the most clout in Washington.

Here’s a case in point. When Congress closed at the beginning of August for its end-of-summer recess, it faced wide-scale derision for having accomplished next to nothing during the year. In fact, the Pew Center ranked the session as the least productive in two decades.

But it wasn’t entirely unproductive. Just before they left town, members of Congress did manage to get three things done: they passed a Veterans Administration reform package; they increased aid to Israel; and they kept highway construction projects around the country from losing funding.

Why did these three measures find success when so many others did not? There’s a two-word answer: powerful lobbyists. Veterans, supporters of Israel, and the combined weight of highway construction interests and state and local governments are among the most influential forces in Washington.

Last year, some 12,000 active lobbyists spent $3.24 billion on trying to influence the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I don’t know of any other country where lobbyists have those kinds of numbers, spend that kind of money, or get the kinds of results they’re able to achieve here — in Congress, in the executive branch and, increasingly, in statehouses around the country.

But even among all those lobbyists, some stand out for their effectiveness. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), veterans’ groups, the AARP: all are very good at obtaining laws and policies in their interests and blocking laws and policies they consider harmful.

I don’t mean by this that they’re all-powerful. They don’t win every battle. But they do win most of them.

How do they do this? To start, lawmakers have to get elected. Good lobbyists don’t just provide large amounts of money for campaigns, they provide early money and expert help. They donate, they introduce you to other donors, and they help you establish connections that can help during your campaign and later on. Early money in politics is better than late money. Candidates remember that sort of thing. They also remember that if you oppose these organizations’ views, they’ll come at you hard.

Good lobbyists and their organizations also provide information in easily digestible form. They’ll assign particular staffers to develop relationships with members of Congress — people who can write a speech or testimony or legislative language quickly. They and their colleagues are sophisticated observers of public affairs who know whether, when, and how to approach government policy makers, along with the particular policy maker who can help them best.

They are deeply knowledgeable about the process of government and have a wide network of friends on Capitol Hill, in the agencies, and in members’ districts — often, their most effective voices aren’t Washington lobbyists, but the grassroots networks they’ve built back home. They understand that at heart, lobbying is about establishing relationships long before any particular issue affecting them comes up, so that when they go to talk about a bill, they’re going in to see a friend.

They build relationships in several ways. There are all kinds of approaches to members — the annual policy conferences to which members of Congress flock, the sponsored trips and meetings in out-of-the-way resorts where a lobbyist can get a few days of a member’s undivided attention. But the best lobbyists are also friendly, approachable people who know how to talk to members and policy-makers of both parties.

The best lobbying groups also have a lot of money and resources not just to woo policy makers, but to shape public discourse. They make good information available to their advocates, and make sure that the advocates who speak for them on television, online, and in newspapers are well informed. They know that part of the battle is to shape public dialogue.

The best lobbyists are masters at making the system work for them. My guess is that their influence over policy surpasses the media’s clout, and they have now become the fourth branch of government.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t

by PSA Staff | April 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t

At a public gathering this year, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question, because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.

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Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

by PSA Staff | February 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering is a retired ambassador and former Under Secretary of State. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was co-authored by Nicholas Kralev. The article originally appeared in USA Today

Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is easy and anyone can do it. This is the message U.S. presidents of both parties have been sending the American people and the world for decades. They have done so not verbally, but through their actions, giving away ambassadorial posts as rewards to unqualified people only because they were top fundraisers during the presidents’ election campaigns.

As old as that issue is, it has received renewed and greater attention recently, following last month’s embarrassing Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nominees as ambassadors to Norway and Hungary. Sen. John McCain’s public shaming of those nominees, hotel magnate George Tsunis and soap opera producer Colleen Bell, for not knowing basic facts about the country where they are supposed to serve or about U.S. interests in that country, has sparked important media commentary.

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Lee Hamilton on Congress: An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

by PSA Staff | February 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current.

An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

In his State of the Union speech to Congress last month, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order.

“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

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A Generationally Balanced Deficit Agreement

by PSA Staff | July 18th, 2013 | |Subscribe

By Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Aaron Tucek.  Aaron Tucek is a student at Emory University and Nunn serves  as a PSA Advisory Board Member and co-chairman of The Concord Coalition.   This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Telegraph.

A Generationally Balanced Deficit Agreement

The House and Senate have each passed their own budgets. The president has submitted a budget proposal of his own. And yet, as we close in on the mid-point of the year, no action has been taken to resolve the differences and agree on an overall fiscal plan for the nation. This would be an abdication of responsibility under any circumstances, but it is particularly so now.

The trajectory of our federal budget is not just fiscally irresponsible; it is immoral. Unless we fix our $17 trillion-and-growing national debt, young Americans stand to be the first generation in our history that will inherit a country worse than the one handed to its parents. Ours will be a country that can neither afford to keep the promises made in the past nor make crucial investments in the future. As a result, Millennials will face a future of even more debt, higher taxes, fewer jobs and a lower standard of living. But this dismal outlook does not have to be our destiny if lawmakers can summon the political courage necessary to put our fiscal house in order, and soon.

Leaders in Washington must take a generationally balanced-approach to reduce our federal deficit. That means tackling the true drivers of the debt, protecting high-value investments and asking for shared sacrifice from all Americans. Unfortunately, recent deficit reduction measures have largely failed on all three accounts.

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Civil Discourse and the Clash of Ideas

by PSA Staff | November 5th, 2012 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is the Co-chair of PSA’s Advisory Board and Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. You can find the original article here.

Civil Discourse and the Clash of Ideas

The election of 2012 has called attention to how difficult it is for  Americans to talk reasonably with one another about public policy  challenges. Our civic dialogue — how we sort through issues and reason  with one another — is too often lamentable.

We live in a politically divided country. Congress, which ought to  serve as the forum where politicians of diverse views find common  ground, is instead riven by ideological disagreements. There’s no real  discourse, just the two parties hammering at each other in a  mean-spirited, strident tone. Small wonder the public holds Congress in  such low esteem.

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Congress’ Partisan Gulf Widens as Moderates Exit Stage Center

by Nathan Sermonis | March 2nd, 2012 | |Subscribe

With this week’s announcement by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, prospects of a more united Congress grew a shade darker. Snowe’s plan to retire at the end of this year brings the casualty count this Congress for Senators widely seen as moderates to three – Snowe, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. And the situation looks just as, if not more, worrisome in the House.

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National Institute for Civil Discourse founded at University of Arizona

by PSA Staff | February 24th, 2011 | |Subscribe

An article in last Sunday’s Washington Post profiled the recently formed National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, which was founded in the wake of the January 8th attack in Tucson. The institute’s mission is to serve as a “national, nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy generation regarding civic engagement and civility in public discourse consistent with First Amendment principles.” Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to serve as honorary chairs, and the institute’s board features a distinguished bipartisan group of leaders, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a PSA Advisory Board member. Among the institute’s main goals is “to connect people with diverse viewpoints and to offer a venue for vigorous and respectful debate.” For more information, click here to visit the institute’s website.

Congressional Fellowship Program Now Accepting Applications

by PSA Staff | February 1st, 2011 | |Subscribe

Partnership for a Secure America’s Congressional Fellowship Program is now accepting applications for the Spring 2011 session. This highly selective program is for Congressional staff interested in generating dialogue and developing the skills and relationships required to advance bipartisanship on national security and foreign policy issues. Through training, networking, and exclusive activities, this unique program aims to build a “next generation” of foreign policy and security experts equipped to respect differences, build common ground and achieve US national interests. The deadline to apply is March 11, 2011. For further information about the program, and to apply, click here.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.