Question: Shifting Dialog

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Identification

This tactic is used to recalibrate the dialog and shift emphasis onto something not mentioned earlier. The setup is very common: “The issue/question is not [x]; the issue/question is [y].”

Example

Consider what a politician could say when faced with a new issue causing public unrest: “Budget is not the real question. We need to ask the question on our constituents’ mind, and that is, ‘Am I safe?’ The question is not money but public safety, and that is why we need to increase incarceration rates for this new insidious form of drug trafficking.”

Solution

There are two ways to handle this: introduce complexity, or logically bring the solution to its conclusion. We introduce complexity because shifting dialog oversimplifies the issue. Whether the issue is public policy, tax, or a contract, one part impacts another. These are complex game theory interactions much of the time, where each element affects the other elements. To handle complexity, we must consider:
  • Who are the people involved who impact the outcome?
  • What are the potential outcomes?
  • What are the probabilities of the outcomes?
  • What is the probability payoff for each of the outcomes?
This accomplishes two things in a negotiation. First, it slows down the velocity of the negotiation. Secondarily, it disarms many oversimplified binary choices that we see in negotiations. In the public policy example above, consider a response such as, “Agreed, we are not just talking about cost of this policy, we are talking about spending more money and failing the policy goal. If you want us to accept increased incarceration for this new social plague, we’ll have to let other potentially violent prisoners back on the streets. Proper assessments must be made before we start arresting more people over this new fad intoxicant.”

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