Thursday, 02 October 2008 19:00 Jim Camp Editorial Dept - Philosophy

The headlines regarding the federal bail-out of troubled banking, investment, and insurance institutions are scary enough without the political charges flying back and forth in an effort to shift blame.

What really matters, however, is your response to them. That is the one thing you can control and, via the upcoming national election, it is the one thing you can control when you make your decision regarding who gets your vote.

As we all know by now, the sub-prime mortgage loan meltdown is the result of government policies that required issuing loans to people who would not, under normal banking standards, have qualified to receive one. This, in turn, generated the “bundling” of these “sub-prime” loans as securities by mortgage loan and investment bankers to spread the risk. 

Instead, it put the entire banking system at risk. There is blame enough to go around because there were many warnings.

How you respond to these events and issues is critical. This is a time for caution, not panic. The financial crisis is the result of having removed caution from an established system that determined who received a loan or not.

The result was predictable. My years as a negotiations coach have taught me that most of the decisions we make in life have a reasonably predictable outcome if they are driven by a well thought out mission and purpose. Decisions that are driven more by inflamed or heighten emotion without a long term aim tend to put people in jeopardy.

Americans are deluged daily with highly emotional messages that they must own their own home, must stock that home with a variety of expensive items, must drive certain kinds of vehicles, and, until the present crisis, could use easy credit to acquire them. Living beyond their means was made possible when people allowed their heightened first emotions to cloud their vision and erode their caution.

In my book, “Start With No”, I identify activities and behaviors that enable people to control their emotions during negotiations and it all begins with a clearly defined mission and purpose. You can apply this to the forthcoming election because you are being asked to make a decision. If you base your decision on an emotional response to either candidate, you risk failing to focus on the issues and the candidate’s track record and positions.

Democracy asks each citizen to build their own vision of the world. This is enabled by the vast flow of information at our disposal or to which we are exposed by the print and news media. Surveys reveal a high level of distrust for the media these days and that cautionary emotion will play a valuable role in your decision.

Since your vote for whoever should be the next President can have a significant outcome, having a personal vision of the future into which you can fit your choice is essential.

Elections are always framed in terms of victory or defeat. Each day, we all deal with what we call “setbacks” or “breakthroughs.” As a negotiations coach, I know that we all live each day as a series of negotiations with family members, co-workers, and others whom we seek to influence.

Successful negotiators are taught to keep a firm grasp on their emotions and to always have a goal in mind whether it’s a mother teaching a child proper table manners, a student seeking help in learning something new, or someone in business looking to make a deal.

Elections are, as often as not, driven by emotions. Both parties wage campaigns with multi-million dollar advertising and communications designed to evoke your emotions and to play on your fears. You need to guard against this tactic and you can do this by looking at the campaigns as a negotiation about your future.

The current economic crisis demonstrates that a lot of people whom we deemed to be intelligent and well-informed made some horrendous mistakes in judgment. The lesson we need to draw from this is to be more confident about our own decision-making practices and capabilities. These are skills that can be learned.

Democracy requires that we take the time to study the problems and issues of our times, to have an informed opinion, and to be willing to change our minds if the facts require it.

Voting for vague concepts of “change” and “hope” is not sufficient. All elections are about change, but we must know what changes are being proposed.

Voting for the next President for purely emotional reasons such as the fact that your family have always been registered Democrats or Republicans, or that you think a particular candidate is more articulate than the other, or simply that you are worried about the future, negates all the fundamentals of negotiation.

Knowing what kind of future you want, informing yourself regarding both candidates’ positions on the issues, and studying the track records of both parties will help you eliminate emotion and replace it with your vision of America in the coming years.

Most people who teach how to negotiate focus on the need to compromise. My system focuses on your ability to make effective decisions and the value of the ability to say “no.” The coming election requires that you say “no” to one candidate or the other. Politicians may have to compromise, but you do not.

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