Two unlikely allies are poised to give Democrats and Republicans in Congress a lesson in effective negotiation skills.
For the past decade, Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, and Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, were bitter adversaries, as reported by Dan Charles on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” in February. No surprise, given that the Humane Society wants to end factory farming, the industry that Gregory represents. According to egg industry practice, hundreds of thousands of chickens are often crowded into cages in a single hen house. The organizations that Pacelle and Gregory lead have spent millions of dollars fighting on opposite sides of government proposals regarding chicken cages.
For years, the two men never spoke. “Why would you want to have a conversation with someone that wants to eliminate your business?” Gregory asked. But with the egg industry facing a slew of different regulations from different states, Gregory sent a message to Pacelle through an intermediary, suggesting they meet one on one.
“We could fight the United Egg Producers for another 10 or 15 years and spend millions and millions of dollars on both sides,” Pacelle told “Morning Edition’s” Charles. “But the other option is we could sit down together and figure out a pathway that’s good for the industry and better for animals.”
Together, the men hammered out a proposal that would give chickens twice as much cage space, plus perches and egg-laying spaces. The plan is due to be phased in over 15 years and is designed to meet industry concerns regarding egg supply.
The deal appears to be a proverbial win-win: egg producers face one clear seat of regulations rather than a patchwork of state mandates; as for the Humane Society, it would see conditions improve in farms in states that were not facing new regulations. On a personal level, Gregory and Pacelle have moved beyond demonizing each other toward mutual respect and trust.
The only catch? To ensure industry-wide compliance, the deal needs to be written into law by Congress. So Pacelle and Gregory, once lobbying on opposite sides on Capitol Hill, are now “walking shoulder to shoulder,” office to office, to ask members of Congress to support the new rules, says Charles.
As this novel alliance shows, you may be able to jump-start an innovative agreement by considering an unusual negotiating partner. The story also reminds us of the value of looking beyond differences that seem insurmountable and seeking common ground. Whether Pacelle and Gregory can pass along their negotiation skills and their collaborative spirit to legislators in Washington remains to be seen.
This story demonstrates the power of interest-based collaboration over what I call, “positional myopia.” In an organizational context, leaders who take a rigid adversarial position and either fail or out-rightly refuse to listen to their opponents can surely guarantee to saddle their stakeholders with missed opportunities and economic setbacks.
How much further ahead, and dollars saved, would their respective organizations be, had their leaders captured the vision sooner that their individual interests could very well be advanced by seeking a common ground for mutual cooperation; than by becoming entrenched in defending positions. The good news however is that they finally caught the vision and made amends to the benefit of their stakeholders.
When two parties are at odds with conflicting interests, there is wisdom in at least making a good faith effort to explore the basis of the interests of the other. The legitimacy of one’s own interests should provide the confidence to engage the other in a collaborative effort of interest exploration without fearing the loss of their individual positions. The worse that can happen is discovering that their interests and positions are so incompatible that they allow for no common ground for mutual cooperation.
Whether Congress responds in similar fashion will depend on whether each member thinks that their personal political interests might be served or harmed by their support of the proposed rules.
The Pacelle-Gregory alliance could very well make it easier to gain such support by applying the lessons they have learned in interest-based collaboration to find a common ground of mutual interest with each member of Congress, and then demonstrate how their individual political interests could be served by supporting the new rules.