Some time ago, I attended a “Women in Leadership” conference put on by one of Ontario’s larger unions.  Wheat I learned there disillusioned two parts of me: the labour part and the feminist part.

In the seminar on Collective Bargaining, I was told that “Every negotiation is an exercise in perceived power: if you have power and act as if you don’t, then you don’t; if you don’t have power and act as if you do, then you do.”  If you don’t have power, then don’t act as if you do!  Don’t act like every obnoxious male I know, strutting about with an inflated sense of importance, acting like The Authority on Everything.  Yes, of course, many buy the act (including, eventually, the actor): many are suckered in by the suit and tie, the bass voice speaking with weighty pauses, the overly serious demeanour.  But to pretend is to deceive.  And to pretend in order to gain power, in order to control – that’s manipulation.

Furthermore, I am disturbed by the view that perception is more important than reality.  Though perception may well guide human action more often than reality, I think that state of affairs is unfortunate.  What ever happened to ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’?  To perpetuate, indeed to encourage, pretence over substance, form over content, is very dangerous.  Especially at the bargaining table.  It occurred to me that the union probably hires image consultants – does it pay them more than it does its policy consultants?

I was also told that “I need is better than I want.“  Wait a minute, there is a difference between needs and wants, and to call a want a need is misleading, and, again, manipulative.  So is inflating needs and wants, the next piece of advice.

I was reminded of the scene in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in which a worker describes why the fictional socialist-run Twentieth Century Motor Company failed miserably: at first ‘from everyone according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’ worked fine, but then people didn’t just need supper for their kids and a wheelchair for their grandmother, they needed cream for their coffee, they needed the living room replastered, and they needed a new car.  Well of course it was the squeaky wheels (the “rotten, whiny, snivelling beggars”) that got the grease – as well as the yacht they ‘needed’.

It’s hard enough to reach an agreement when two parties have different objectives; to lie about those objectives makes it harder, not easier.  We should say what we mean and mean what we say.  So if you want X, say you want X, not X times two.  It’s the morally correct thing to do, but even from a pragmatic point of view, it makes sense: people stop believing people who exaggerate, people who lie.

“Negotiations is a game.”  One seminar leader said it, and another illustrated it.  The ‘ice beaker’ in her seminar was a game called “Diverse Points”.  Basically the game went like this: the Leisure Area was for single players to form pairs in preparation for negotiation; the Negotiations Area was for negotiation – people met in pairs and tried to reach agreement on how to divide 100 points between them in any of four proportions, 90/10, 80/20, 70/30, 60/40 (a division of 50/50 was not permitted); the object of the game was to accumulate as many points as possible and the player with the highest total score was the winner.

Well.  First of all, trying to get as many points as possible is not negotiating, it’s competing.

Second, why isn’t a split of 50/50 permitted?  In the absence of significance (the points had no meaning) and therefore rationale, a split of 50/50 is, to my mind, most fair.  Why structure a game that excludes fairness as a possibility?  Could it be that achieving fair agreement is not the point?

Third – the Leisure Area!  I suppose it simulates the golf course, the tennis court, the cocktail lounge – you butter up your associate, pretending to be friends, doing the leisure thing together, and then you saunter over to the Negotiations Area.  ‘How To Use Your Friends’ couldn’t be written more clearly over the entrance.  Instead, why not just show up at the Negotiations Area when you want to negotiate?

I played the game, with great reluctance and after considerable thought, trying to average 50 points per negotiation.  As I mentioned earlier, it was the best I could do in terms of fairness (I believe a split of 90/10 could also be fair – it depends on context, which was absent).  To my pleasant surprise, many of the women I interacted with were quite happy with this approach, and we easily and pleasantly decided who would get 40 and who would get 60, based on each of our totals so far; sometimes we agreed on 70/30, or even 80/20, if one of us was quite a bit over an average of 50 and the other quite a bit under.  However, at least one woman lied to me about her point average.  This was not surprising, given the preceding instruction.  She may have been the winner, I’m not sure; to be honest, I didn’t care much who won.

The conference proceeded and the more I learned about succeeding in my role as a union officer, as a woman on the labour front, the more I wished I hadn’t been elected by my branch.  The last thing I remember was this statement: “Collective bargaining has nothing to do with logic or reason.”  Apparently it has nothing to do with ethics either.



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