Negotiation Skills for Public Officials

Press Release
Press Release

Stephanie Bell, Assistant Professor of Law and Assistant Director of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University School of Law, and Andy Fox, Mayor of Thousand Oaks, CA, Master’s in Dispute Resolution, will serve as presenters in “Public Sector Negotiation Skills” at the Congress of Cities and Exposition on Thursday, November 20th from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. in Austin, TX.

Does your city have contentious public meetings? Do you have deeply divided communities based on issues driven by values, resources or even identity?

As elected or appointed officials, each of you negotiates daily. In fact, several times a day. The challenges you face in negotiating with constituents, neighboring municipalities, the press, colleagues, executive offices, the union and your staff have a technical difficulty of TEN—the foe you have in one issue may be an ally in the next.

The best public sector negotiators know the fundamentals of negotiations. They have not only good “table skills,” but a long term strategy for achieving their end goal. They learn how to say “no” and maintain the relationship. They learn not to close a deal too early—or too late. They know how to balance transparency, public disclosure and citizen involvement with the efficiency of the “back room deal.”  They refrain from “argument dilution,” and present their most salient interests clearly.

After taking a negotiations training, former Mercer Island, Wash. Mayor Jim Pearman wrote the following reflection:

“Virtually all newly elected officials will experience the dilemma of listening to the impassioned plea of a constituent and committing themselves to solving the problem without listening to or searching for the other perspective. Once committed, often times the official will learn “new information” that trumps the original information, leaving him/her in a very difficult situation. 

If they stand on their original position they will make a poor decision, if they change their position they will look inconsistent: Not a good place to be.  With the use of negotiation skills, a policy maker can peel back an issue without immediate commitment while demonstrating goodwill and respect to the constituent. By not prematurely committing to a policy decision and searching for a balanced view of the issue a more reasoned perspective can be obtained, thus avoiding the possibility of inconsistent voting behavior. If the goal of an elected official is to make good decisions for their constituents, interest based negotiation training should be high on their list of continuing education courses.”

Elected and appointed public officials and their staff can learn the latest negotiation theories and techniques in this interactive, practical and entertaining course. Building on empirical data from the fields of business, communication and psychology, the courses utilizes sophisticated simulations and case studies to create a conceptual roadmap for negotiation strategy in the public sector.

Mayor Fox actively leverages negotiation skills to move forward the city’s agenda and resolve disputes, and Professor Bell has been teaching negotiations to public sector employees for fifteen years.

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