So I confess it, I was so desperate last night I watched Piers Morgan who was interviewing Dan Rather. Part of their discussion focused on the gridlock in the US Congress. According to them, Barack Obama and John Boehner have not actually talked face to face since mid-November. How is that possible, particularly for a President who came into office talking about compromise and putting the interests of the nation first? The question is a bit rhetorical since every thinking person on the planet has been asking the same question every time the fiscal cliff rears its head. Again.
The Sunday New York Times carried an interesting feature by A. Scott Berg, author of a pending biography of Woodrow Wilson. According to Berg, Wilson, a Democrat, faced an equally entrenched Congress and he too proposed an agenda of aggressive change — which he achieved with some success. How did he do it? Well for starters he appeared before a joint session of Congress to make his case. This hadn’t been done in more than a hundred years. Then, he did something really unprecedented. He moved into the President’s Room at the Capitol – an office essentially used for formal occasions – and worked there at least three days a week giving him an opportunity to meet up with members of both houses informally and exchange ideas.
Now this kind of strategy might not be feasible today, but it does tell us something about what works. There is no substitute for keeping the lines of communication open. This has relevance in any stakeholder negotiation no matter how heated it becomes. Talk. Talk a lot. Even when you don’t think you are getting through, keep the tone measured and keep right on talking. Talk.