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The Future Will Be Non-Negotiable – The Coming Age Of Unresolvable Conflict

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.

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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.

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In the words of Macbeth, “what’s done is done.” Bad enough. Worse, though, is the upshot, “what’s done cannot be undone.”

Negotiation reality

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?

Then what?

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.

Sources

Evan Mitchell and Brian Mitchell, “Rage against the machine”, The Australian, April 20, 2018.

Schopenhauer, Artur, The Art of Always Being Right38 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.

Dr. Brian Mitchell
Dr. Brian Mitchellhttp://www.howandy.net
AFTER a PhD in Psychology at the University of Sydney, Brian Mitchell spent several years in clinical practice before moving into consulting with the Mandev International group. He became President of the North American, Asian, and Australian operations, and an international speaker on the subject of retail sales productivity. In the mid-1990’s Brian established Mitchell Performance Systems (MPS), working with CPG industry leaders in the US, on systems to improve sales and negotiation outcomes with retailers. He has completed three books in collaboration with Evan Mitchell – including the 2009 Praeger publication The Psychology of Wine, now released in a revised eBook edition. A joint paper in 2013 to the 7th International WineHealth conference highlighted the dangers facing the wine industry from generational trends. He is Co-founder of HOW&Y, a group specializing in the Millennial generation – as both consumers and employees.

7 COMMENTS

  1. There is no doubt that the Millennials are causing the hustle and bustle in the world of work, there have been numerous discussions in the HR world on how to best solve the problem and mold the millennials as model employees. I think it’s a short-sighted approach: Rather than judging their behavior and trying to change it, it would be better to accept that this generation is here to stay and take the best of their ways to operate. This does not mean throwing away all the previous work values and practices, but finding a way to best meet all the employees. What’s interesting is that just start digging you realize that there are many more similarities between generations than differences. Even a little older staff give importance to flexibility and frankness, just like Y generation, perhaps simply struggling to express it.

    • Cheers, Larry. Most frightening, from our viewpoint, is an eventual (inevitable?) world in which negotiation as a process and social institution has devolved into more and more aggressive advocacy of ambit claims, with less and less tendency to compromise, or even see the necessarily sustaining value of compromise. To Millennials out there, though (and couched in terms of pure self-interest) – perhaps the most effective way for you to steal a march on your peers is to actually acquire just a modicum of the negotiation intuition, insight and skills that previous generations had the luxury of taking for granted. To paraphrase (if not butcher!) Erasmus, in the land of the intractable the negotiator is king – or queen.

  2. Well said. So, in the time-honored tradition of placing blame, who do we blame for this condition. Who created these younger generations that are so self-absorbed, egotistical, unyielding, and expecting everything to be handed to them? Parents, teachers, religious leaders, government, judicial system? Perhaps all the above?

    Compromise is certainly a must to resolve this mess. Perhaps these “wet behind the ears” kids will grow out of it, helped along by some hard knocks of reality by living life in the real world.

    • Ken, we share your hopes as to a generation “growing out of” the worst excesses of their general intractability – unfortunately, though, the majority never “grew into” the instincts, tactics and communication soft-skills that would replace what’s grown out of. It’s certainly true that many Millennials, on leaving the extreme cossetting of today’s colleges and universities, do experience some shocks at “hard knocks” of the real world. However, living life more and more digitally and in the social media echo chamber, makes the imposition of IRL realities somewhat more problematic. Let’s hope your optimism might be borne out – but the signs aren’t good.

  3. Dr. Mitchell, your article is spot on and yet way above my form of writing, and I would only say that the finesses of all that you mentioned in this millennial age has passed and been forgotten, not by those you speak of now, but the parental generation who are the culprits.

    • Thanks Lynn
      Parents do warrant their share of blame, but unfortunately a good deal of their capacity to make up for damage done is now limited by their relatively limited “influencer” role. Exacerbating the problem further are other institutions – schools, universities and businesses, through their ad/marketing messages and social media responses to Millennial angst – which seem now to train Gen Y, in a simple stimulus-response kind of way, in the maladaptive aspects of bargaining rather than the socially and personally constructive.

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