From an upcoming book – on the rise of the Millennial generation and what it means for society.
How it is
It’s a beautiful concept, negotiation. In the face of conflict, standards of cooperative benefits are imposed, towards an agreement that all parties can live with. It works in a dialectical way. Thesis, confronted by Antithesis, is resolved into a final Synthesis, one that emphasizes cooperative gains. The process itself is self-reinforcing, ensuring that the psychological mindset of firm fairmindedness and mutual obligation is perpetuated in future negotiations.
The Social Contract is honoured, the social fabric preserved from untenable rifts. That’s how it’s always worked. But, with the coming ascendency of the Millennial generation… not anymore.
The Gen Y mindset rejects previous norms of compromise, concession-trading, and legitimate quid pro quo. And the consequences will be far-reaching, not merely in those institutions built on the foundation of negotiation (law, politics, government, public and private business…), but on the nature of social interaction as well.
Examples of a generation-wide intractability abound. The mantra “haters gonna hate” (or, if you prefer, #h8tersgonnah8) has become an anthem, literally, for Gen Y. In fact, numerous anthems, figuring as it does in a bunch of pop lyrics, the most prominent of them Taylor Swift’s “Shake it up” (however, the song’s sentiment of resilience has been far less culturally intrusive than the message that all critics are “haters” who indulge in wholly-malicious and unreasonable dissent). It’s even become a meme-driven acronym/acrostic:
This is more than an inoculation against criticism. It amplifies the blanket sense of contrived victimhood and exhaustive abandonment of standards, that the phrase “haters gonna hate” really invokes. To disagree, in the sanest voice of reason, is to invite dismissal as a “hater.” The ramifications for negotiation couldn’t be clearer. Negotiation requires the simultaneous intimate understanding of your own interests and the manner in which these are in conflict with the requirements of the other party. Negotiation is predicated on an understanding of the reality of compromise, and a willingness to compromise. How can this proceed from a generational mindset which wants to claim ex cathedra infallibility?
In 1831, Schopenhauer penned a wry little book titled The Art of Always Being Right – 38 ways to win when you are defeated. His intention was to be both mischievous and to expose a multitude of flawed/false arguments which undermine legitimate argument, mediation, and the reconciliation of differences. These three little words “haters gonna hate” (well, two genuine words and a demotic contraction) are able to embody 33 of Schopenhauer’s 38 ways to win when you are defeated – including false premises, claiming victory despite defeat, begging the question, persuading the audience not the opponent, appealing to authority not to reason, putting the opposing thesis into some odious category, a determination that will is more effective than insight… No wonder its appeal is so generationally saturating.
The requirement to compromise is further undermined by the echo-chamber/groupthink bubble of social media. In perpetual contact with a digital peer group whose tastes, attitudes, beliefs, and convictions are identical, it becomes second nature to see diverging views as just wrong. Consequently, compromise towards them is righteously intolerable, and intractability is seen as a mark of principle rather than pig-headed obstruction.
Changing manners and mores of communication have also wreaked havoc on the social skills required to negotiate deftly and persuasively. These are everywhere under attack, from the miscommunication excesses of Generation emoji to the general impersonalizing of companionship. Consider two individuals buried in their own devices, scrolling, swiping, posting, commenting, uploading, downloading, liking, following, friending or unfriending… socialising in communal isolation. And that’s a first date. The digital feed eclipses flesh and blood interaction. As much as employers vent their frustration at this, what of the warping of Gen Y minds? Facial expression, body language, nuance of tone and timbre and emphasis… the essence of human communicative co-experience, critical to the diplomatic aspects of the negotiation process, are on the path to obsolescence.
The frequently cited generational sense of entitlement also plays against a mindset needing to acquire the instincts, skills, and behaviors at the heart of effective negotiation. Never before has a generation been so full of the expectation that change just “happens.” Tactical and strategic planning requires anticipation and foresight to be worked at and worked through. FOMO, a paradoxical suite of dissonant convictions, married to the position that the grass is always greener, that one deserves better and that somehow it’s the responsibility of the universe to supply that “better” …, sabotages the legitimacy of the essential need to negotiate in order to further our own interests.
These aspects of Millennial behaviour are disabling to negotiation and the effective resolution of differences. But while it’s easy to be critical of this generation, they are not the culprits. What they are is a result of what they’ve come from. Circumstances conspired to ensure that Gen Y never developed the negotiation intuitions and skills that previous generations acquired as a matter of upbringing.