Genesis Chapter 18 might be an unusual source to derive some interesting negotiating techniques, but as they say in showbiz 'the old ones are the best'.
Chapter 18 tells the story of the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah, on the shore of the Dead Sea, which were centres of evil. The Almighty decides to liquidate the twin towns, and tells Abraham of his intentions.
Abraham is appalled by this merciless divine plan. When your mission is to found a new religion, good PR is vital, and this idea looked like madness - the collateral damage resulting from the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah was bound to be enormous and the resulting publicity possibly catastrophic. He had to do something.
But he must have been somewhat awed at the prospect of telling an all-encompassing power which seemed very resolute that this was a big mistake. So he decided to use the Argue step (part of the Eight Step® process of negotiating). He asks God a series of questions. Do you really want to destroy the righteous who live in the area along with the wicked? Even if there only 50 righteous? Can you see how people will call this sacrilegious? Are you not supposed to be the ultimate purveyor of justice? Do you call this justice?
Had we been advising Abraham (on a consultancy basis, reasonable rates available by the hour) we would have suggested that he should draw breath and pause between each question to allow an answer. Long established as Scotwork is, however, we weren't around at the time.
Abraham's questions are rhetorical, and designed to be persuasive. But in amongst the questions is an implied proposal - agree not to do it if we can find 50 righteous. The Lord agrees. Abraham decides to go for a bit of dealcreep. What if there are only 45 righteous? Or 40? Or 30? Or 20? Or even only 10? Each time God concedes.
The 'What if….' technique is effective because it draws attention away from the main issue (the destruction of the twin towns) and refocuses on one variable in the mix. Getting agreement on movement on one variable is more likely than movement on the whole; it works like a facesaver.
A bigger dose of 'What if….' would be appropriate this week within the Eurozone countries, trying to deal with the crises in the twin towns of Athens and Rome. So far, we have had 'What if we get the Prime Ministers to resign?' At the time of writing, it hasn't made a difference. Ditto 'What if we accelerated the austerity measures?' Ditto 'What if we allowed a limited default on the indebtedness?' I suspect these variables are all too marginal to make a difference. Maybe 'What if we split the Mediterranean countries off from the others and allow a two-speed Eurozone?' would be more useful. It still maintains the Eurozone principle, allows a face saver, and might get the world economy back on track.
Well, I'm sure you know the outcome of the biblical story. We're not told how many righteous there actually were (obviously less than 10!), but Sodom and Gomorrah are no more. Let's hope that Athens and Rome do better.
About the author:
My background is sales and marketing. I read Law at University and worked for 2 major packaging companies for 13 years in sales and sales management. I joined John McMillan and Scotwork in 1984. For the next 25 years together with our colleagues we delivered training and consulting, built the global business and developed the Scotwork product portfolio.