How it came about
In earlier articles – What Created the Gen Y Consumer and Shadowing Science: a lesson for marketing on paradigm shift – we outlined the five dynamics that shaped the Millennial worldview. These five factors combined to torpedo the development of any sympathetic negotiation mindset within this generation – through no fault of Millennials themselves.
[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#FFFFFF” end_color=”#FFFFFF” border=”#fb7200″ color=”# fb7200″]
Educational – a shift in focus from achievement to self-esteem. The shift in educational practice to an “all must have prizes” pedagogy, destroyed the gradual learning curve that would otherwise have fed potential negotiation aptitude. Idealised self-esteem destroyed the necessary recognition that concession-granting is fundamental to both personal and social order. Further damage was done by the encouragement of entitlement to such an extent that any compromise could be read as an affront to personal integrity.
Vocational – a shift in focus from accomplishment to celebrity. In an age in which the pursuit of a celebrity profile overwhelms any other sense of accomplishment, Millennials became preoccupied with their own image, and the urgent need to exceed the image aspirations of others. This mentality is the antithesis of cooperative efforts to “make the pie bigger” – to facilitate a greater sharing of the mutually-created spoils, in each party’s interest.
Psychological – a shift in patterns of maturational modelling. Swapping parents for peers as models of behaviours, attitudes, and ethics was arguably the most significant loss in the development of negotiation aptitude. Parents had previously served as both guides and adversaries in the slow formation of negotiation skills. Growing up was fundamentally a series of negotiations around standards of personally accepted responsibilities. Transferring influencing legitimacy from parents (vertical modelling) to peers (horizontal modelling) and then celebs and social media influencers (diagonal modelling) ended the transfer of negotiation manners and abilities. These now shrivelled before full development or failed to develop at all. Interaction between like-minded, groupthink-tending friends requires little negotiation – and when dissent does arise, the likeliest outcome is not a conscientiously worked-out compromise, but the death of the friendship or its demotion to the generationally ubiquitous state of “frenemy.”
Cultural – the emergence of social media as social life. Social media is the ultimate zero-sum game. In the digital cesspool of curated image-manipulation, cooperative attitudes are out of place. This is a Darwinian realm, “red in tooth and claw” at its most basically savage, in the unceasing competition for views, likes, shares, follows, comments, reposts, and recognition.
Technological – the emergence of technology as means and end. This generation mistakes their dependence on tech for tech’s dependability. Generational tech saturation has been responsible for a multitude of invidious unintended consequences, many of those currently playing out in the scrutiny of Facebook’s compromising (and not in a good way) of user private data. In negotiation terms, tech obsession has inflated the generational tendency towards immediate gratification – ceding personal skills and abilities (in reason, cognition, memory, and imagination) to the seeming benevolence of tech’s constantly expanding and imaginary compensations.
In the words of Macbeth, “what’s done is done.” Bad enough. Worse, though, is the upshot, “what’s done cannot be undone.”
There are three conditions necessary to establish a situation of negotiation:
Conflict of interest – there must be some areas in which you and the other party are in direct competition, or else all you’re engaged in is joint problem-solving.
Mutual dependence – you must both need the other in order to further your own aims, or else why are you even sitting at the same table?
Opportunistic potential – either party must have the potential to improve the outcome in their own favour by the way in which they conduct the negotiation. If this is not a given, then there’s no negotiation, just one party telling the other what they have to do.
If any of these three conditions is missing, then whatever you’re doing it’s not negotiation.
But consider all the instances in which all three of these conditions are simultaneously met – the vast array of situations in working life, and personal life as well.
In any organization – public or private – different departments have different requirements and priorities. These create distinct pockets of groupthink within their own echo chamber. Sales and Marketing are differently focused and frequently at odds. As might be, say, Procurement and Innovation.
No matter how many internal liaison positions are created, the inevitable conflicting interests of these various departments aren’t ever going away. Distinct departmental KPIs and bonus structures ensure that departmental groupthink is supported by self-interest, the greatest motivator of all.
The so-called “silo” structure of organizations has been periodically reviled – but it remains the most durable aspect of organizational organization. Sure, there’s been some language-shaping to mask inter-departmental conflicting interests, but semantic massaging has not undone the self-perpetuating silo model. Even the new economy businesses, tech and digital, are traditionally structured, merely obscuring the enduring reality with the hipster trappings of skateboard ramps, ping pong tables, and bean bag spaces.
Older workers have been no less inclined than younger ones to these kinds of blinkering departmental orthodoxies, but they have had some other advantages – a recognition that negotiation is necessary to navigate conflicting/cooperative tensions, and an intuitive grasp of the essential hows of negotiation. These older types will soon have moved on, and within a decade the overwhelming majority of significant decision-making roles will be filled by Millennials. What radical resolutions are likely to be reached in the areas of politics, business, diplomacy and elsewhere, when all parties lack a grasp of mutually obliging negotiation principles? When there is no organizing norm and no underlying psychological mindset for bargaining, mediation or reconciliation?
Who knows how the Millennial generation will ultimately and collectively respond to this mess. We’re betting – not well. But it is employers, private and public, who are already in the firing line. The fact that the mindset and skills required to negotiate are on a demographic slide, doesn’t mean that the need to negotiate is any less real than it’s ever been. Negotiation is the glue that keeps society, and its institutions, from tearing apart. It’s well for organizations to contrive creative ways to engage their Gen Y employees. But to fail to respond vigorously to this impending crisis, one that if left will progressively and inexorably undermine the fabric and essence of any organization, that is not cool.
Evan Mitchell and Brian Mitchell, “Rage against the machine”, The Australian, April 20, 2018.
Schopenhauer, Artur, The Art of Always Being Right – 38 ways to win when you are defeated, Gibson Square, London, 2005.
Cialdini, Robert B, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Quill William Morrow, NY, 1993.
Brian Mitchell & Evan Mitchell, “What Created the Gen Y Consumer”, BizCatalyst 360°, January 2016.
Brian Mitchell & Evan Mitchell, “Shadowing Science: A Lesson for Marketing on Paradigm Shift”, BizCatalyst 360°, April 2016.