The Key To Effective Cooperation: Trust But Verify

On May 14, 2019, the Irvine city council appointed Mike Carroll, Mayor Pro Tem Kuo’s former planning commissioner, to fill a vacancy on the Irvine city council. Don Wagner’s departure from the the city council to become the Orange County third district supervisor created the vacancy.

If you are not already familiar with the machinations that resulted in the Carroll appointment, you can watch item 5.2 of the city council deliberations. Then, using the guidelines stated below, you can decide for yourself which cooperation method–the good, the bad, or the ugly–each of the city council members engaged in. You can also decide which council members were most effective in achieving their overall goals for Irvine.

If your response to sustained hard positional bargaining is soft positional bargaining, you will probably loose your shirt.
If you do not like the choice between hard and soft positional bargaining, you can change the game.–Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

Most of us would agree that cooperation is a good thing. This is true in our everyday lives as well as in politics, whether local or national. However, an attempt at cooperation can result in a situation that is not mutually beneficial if the other side is not also attempting to cooperate. So it is important to ask this question: How can we avoid giving away too much but still achieve the benefits possible with cooperation? Many years ago, I read a book  about cooperation that had some answers to this question.*

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Cooperation

This book stated three possibilities: The first possibility is that all people or groups are cooperating. In this first case, all involved reap some benefits. The second possibility is that one side decides to quit cooperating and the other side continues to cooperate. In this second case, the non-cooperating side reaps all the benefits, and the cooperating side gets none of the benefits. The third possibility is that all sides are not cooperating. In this third case, the results are that the all sides receives fewer benefits than if they were cooperating.

Guidelines for Effective Cooperation

Following a few guidelines will help ensure that the the cooperation is equally beneficial to both sides.

In an attempt to achieve cooperation, do not give away your valuable resources unless the other side is also cooperating. To ensure this cooperation, put in place mechanisms that will allow you to end the agreement if the other side is not keeping its commitments. Past actions are a good indicator of future behavior, so start with some small commitments. This will ensure that losses are minor if the  cooperation is broken. Actions, especially those that will have major consequences, should not be entered into without these mechanisms in place. Words alone are not enough to ensure the needed trust. Actions that back up the words are needed.

Following these guidelines will help achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. This is true when we make decisions in our everyday lives and true for community representatives when they make decisions for their constituents.

As Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust but verify.”

“Many people recognize the high cost of hard positional bargaining, particularly on the parties and their relationship. They hope to avoid them by following a more gentle stye of negotiation. …

The soft negotiation game emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining a relationship….However, any negotiation primarily concerned with the relationship runs the risk of producing a sloppy agreement.

More importantly, pursuing a soft and friendly  form of positional bargaining makes you vulnerable to someone who plays a hard game of positional bargaining. In positional bargaining, a hard game dominates a soft one….The process will produce an agreement, but it may not be a wise one.”–Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

*Note: The book that I am referencing is The Evolution of Cooperation. However, the quotes are from the book Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.