"What we call human reason, is not the effort or ability of one, so much as it is the result of the reason of many, arising from lights mutually communicated, in consequence of discourse and writing … For according as society improves and flourishes, men acquire more influence over one another by means of reasoning and discourse; and in proportion as that influence is felt to enlarge, it must follow, as a natural consequence, that they will bestow more Care upon the methods of expressing their conceptions with propriety and eloquence."

Hugh Blair (1718-1800)

Chapter 2: Negotiation Quality

The word negotiation derives from the Latin neg, which means 'not,' and otium, which means 'leisure.'

Negotiation is NOT leisure.

To the contrary, it is work–often hard work. The Latin derivation can still be seen in the way we use the word today.

Negotiation in the modern sense refers to our ability to deal with business affairs, to arrange by discussion the settlement of terms, to reach agreements through treaties and compromise, and to travel through challenging territory. All of these connotations suggest a purposeful effort to resolve problems through talk and intellectual maneuvering. Negotiation includes consultation, bargaining, mediation, arbitration, and sometimes even litigation. High quality negotiation stays within the realm of civil discourse, even during litigation.

Incorporating these ideas, negotiation is moderately formal discourse in which people come together to find a solution to a common problem or set of problems through talk and intellectual maneuvering. Discourse is a back and forth communication of thought by words, talk, gestures, conversation, treatise, sermon, essay, and similar activities. Discourse comes from the Latin 'running to and fro' and discussion from the Latin 'a shaking'. The term 'discourse' in the plusroot version, implies a give and take sharing of ideas and other intellectual values. Rationality is a major component of discourse. After all, one does not speak of discourse between gravity and the apple on the tree--unless it is a fable. (See Figures of Speech)

Negotiation quality means the degree of rational competence people share in resolving problems that involve conflict of interest. Problems of this nature are high priority problems, especially when the conflict involves serious matters. Mistakes at this level of communication can have devastating consequences.

Negotiation quality includes the skill of individuals and also the proficiency of the communication systems individuals build for themselves. To reach satisfactory solutions, the people involved need mature problem solving skills. Successful negotiators stay within the realm of civil discourse. When self-serving power plays override commonsense honesty, then negotiations begin to break down.

Successful outcome requires adequate negotiation skills. If the parties involved keep the tone of their interaction within the realm of civil discourse, then negotiation quality will be high and the chances of success will be optimal. High quality negotiation avoids force, respects individuals, and achieves mutually beneficial results.

Negotiation quality becomes low when participants step outside the realm of civil discourse and attempt to manipulate the outcome with divisive tactics. Low quality negotiation sabotages progress in one way or another. It grows worse as factions become more contentious. Low quality negotiation easily breaks down and violence takes over.

As mentioned earlier, a major objective of plusroot theory is to probe the connection between sound rational thinking and the quality of freedom and decency in a society. If we are to make improvements in a rational manner, we must be able to negotiate successfully. To negotiate successfully, we should at least meet the minimum standards of sound rational thinking. As I pointed our in Chapter One, this means sufficiently promoting root verities and adequately avoiding root errors.

Two Hinges

Negotiation is a social activity involving groups of people. In operation, it resembles a door with two hinges. One hinge represents the competence of those who actually conduct particular negotiations. Matters of war and peace are negotiated by leaders representing a society. Our lives and fortunes, at this stage of negotiation, depend on the proficiency of a few individuals.

The second hinge represents the atmosphere or style in which negotiators ply their trade. Negotiators do not negotiate in a vacuum. No matter how skilled the personal negotiators (presidents, ambassadors, statesmen, governors, managers, labor bosses, etc.), if they are to succeed, the group they represent must adequately support their efforts. Normally, a negotiator will be a product of a political or business system and will reflect the popular assumptions of his or her compatriots.

It thus happens that skill of high placed individuals and the rational style of the community are two hinges on the same door. The swing of the door will be governed by the hinge in worst condition, not by the hinge in best condition. As Cicero once said,
Eg. 2b:

"An army abroad is of little use unless there are prudent counsels at home." [B225p481]

To understand the scope of negotiation quality we should investigate both the political atmosphere that surrounds the individual negotiators and individual rational skills required if negotiation is to have positive results.

The method of choosing which individuals will represent a group is an important aspect of negotiation quality. It is the business of politicians to elevate suitable people into negotiation positions. Negotiation quality refers to both the competence of individuals and the proficiency of the negotiation structure people erect around themselves. To a significant extent, politics is the science of negotiation. It's the job of citizens to keep politicians honest.

Business of Philosophers

Negotiation is work. The higher the quality, the more the work. To voluntarily tackle the task, people must be convinced it is worth the trouble.

At this point the value of philosophy becomes evident. It should be the business of philosophers to show how to improve negotiation skills and to convince people it is worth the effort. Many philosophers agree with this approach and exert real effort in promoting the guidelines of sound rational thinking.

Philosophy, in plusroot classification, is a thoughtful examination of reality, especially problems involving ideals, discourse and duty, accompanied by an attempt to put first things first and expose illusion. In this view, all rationally functioning people are philosophers to some degrees. We are all in the negotiating business.

However, most of us need some guidance. We can be counted for some of the work. But most of us direction and must have our desire inflamed. To elevate the rational style of a community, people need to be educated and encouraged to participate.

The usual time to educate and motivate is in school. This requires teachers. Teachers need a theory to teach. The bulk of the theory that teachers teach comes from the higher echelons of the academic community. Critical academic philosophy thus enters the body politic and works its magic. This avenue is one of the major roadways through which the philosophers who become dominant in a nation crucially influence the quality of negotiation ascendant in a society.

It takes work to teach the fundamentals of sound rational thinking. It takes work to learn and teach the rational justification of ethics. People won't do it if they think it is a waste of time. By removing basic common logic from required curriculum in our schools, many schools have left the project of teaching sound rational thinking to happenstance. Many individual teachers do teach the basics of sound rational thinking. But it is often the students who most need to understand the fundamentals of right reason who get the least exposure. Time will tell whether this method is good enough.

Academic philosophy is a powerful force in any society. Sound rational thinking at this level benefits mankind. Mistakes at this level can bring misery to great number of people. To ignore what is happening in the academic world is a grave oversight. Since most of the mistakes of philosophers stem from root errors, the rest of us should make a serious effort to know some basics about elemental rational theory. (See Dialectic Essay and Philosophy Essay.)


Negotiation operates in varying degrees of expertise. It is not an all or none accomplishment, but rather a more or less process that moves from one solution to the next with the intent of increasing benefit to those involved. The more expertise negotiators employ in using the guidelines of sound rational thinking, the higher will be the negotiation quality. The higher the negotiation quality, the more civil the discourse. The more civil the discourse, the more success the parties involved can expect in building trust, avoiding violence, and reaching mutually satisfactory solutions.

If we are concerned with building a good society, we should be equally concerned with increasing expertise in employing the guidelines of sound rational thinking. This requires work. Negotiation uses talk to go from talk to solution. When talk does not succeed, it is often because negation quality was too low.

Sound Common Values

Complications do not stop here. Each negotiator negotiates with other negotiators. To make progress, the parties involved must have some basic values in common and must desire success. If people in charge hold little in common with each other and if they lack the appetite to succeed, then chances are they will fail to exert the effort it takes to achieve constructive negotiation.

For high quality negotiation, negotiators to carefully prepare for the negotion, seek out sound common values, and nurture an appetite for success.

Without this effort bargaining is likely to fail. When civil discourse deteriorates, the parties involved either quit or resort to underhanded, contentious strategies. In the worst case, parties become cruelly manipulative and even violent. Poorly executed negotiation deteriorates into coercion.


The problem of building mutual trust is one of the challenges negotiators face. It's a serious problem because, on many occasions, suspicion is justified. Trust can only be built when adequate honesty is both given and returned. When our opponents are noticeably dishonest, we suspect their motives. In turn, when we are dishonest, others become wary of our motives.

Honesty in negotiation implies that people on all sides tolerably tell the truth and are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to one another. In contrast, when elemental rational mistakes that distort our understanding of truth work their way into a political framework, it becomes difficult for people in contact with that system to have sufficient trust in one another to conduct high level negotiations. The easiest solution to this problem (perhaps the only solution) is to address errant ideology and correct the root errors that stand in the way of building honesty, trust, and esteem for impartial truth.


The need for negotiation always implies some sort of conflict. Conflict as such is not a disaster. The danger lies in the tactics we use to resolve the conflict. Divisive tactics are manipulative, antagonistic, contemptuous attempts to defeat a person or group we have designated as our enemy. Divisive tactics are hostile acts. They can ruin hopes for a mutually beneficial solution. When people employ deceitful intrigue, antagonisms accelerate, problems accumulate and detrimental confrontation often follows.

The amount of violence accompanying a conflict offers a convenient yardstick to gauge the quality of a negotiation in process. It’s not the only measure, but it’s the most dramatic. Violence clearly signals that something serious is missing from the quality of negotiation. The over-simplistic view is for one side to maintain that error resides solely on the other side. "Those guys over there are no good!" A deeper look into the problem reveals that violence most often erupts after negotiations break down, and negotiations break down because of poorly developed problem solving techniques on both sides. This usually occurs because the philosophy of both is riddled with root errors. The more serious the root errors, the more crass the problem solving skills will be.


Wherever we find tyranny, we find insufficiently developed negotiation quality. Tyranny comes into the picture when the parties involved employ inadequate problem solving techniques and lack the will to improve.

The easiest and safest way to avoid tyranny is to increase problem solving abilities that upgrade negotiation quality. To do this, people need both skill and desire. High quality negotiation requires work. People will not do the work required unless they are convinced it is worth the effort. When we go deep into the problem we discover that the most effective way to increase negotiation skill is to promote root verities and adequately correct root errors.

Totalitarian Thinking

Totalitarian thinking, in plusroot classification, is ‘all or none’ thinking that takes place on occasions when ‘more or less’ would be more fitting. Either-or thinking that is rightly handled is not totalitarian. Either-or reasoning, validly used, is a healthy aspect of sound rational thinking and civil discourse. Totalitarian all or none thinking is a serious fallacy.

Either-or thinking is a legitimate use of affirmative logical relationships. Often either-or thinking is useful in making good decisions. Nonetheless, there are times when people mistakenly treat a situation as either-or, that in reality is a more or less. When we make this mistake, our thinking tends in the totalitarian direction.

To address a gray situation as if it were black and white, is serious logical fallacy. A good logic course makes clear how to tell one situation from the other. To deprive students of this knowledge is counter productive. Good, sound courses in classic syllogistic logic, updated to fit modern science, are a major need if we desire to keep democracy healthy and strong.

Unfortunately, in modern education, well-formed courses in syllogistic logic have been removed from most curricula. Even the teaching of classic syllogistic logic is becoming a lost art.


For negotiations to succeed, the moving force in a political group must be dominated by people who genuinely want success. The mysterious element called "desire" is a ruling factor in finding ways to resolve conflict in a mutually beneficial manner.

In arousing desire, philosophy obviously plays a major role. It is the business of philosophers to fan hope for progress in peace and to promote the necessary commitment to sound rational thinking required to achieve non-violent improvement. If philosophers discourage the use of basic common logic, whether they mean to or not, they encourage the ascendancy of polarizing ideologies.

When people share a common commitment to the basic guidelines of sound rational thinking, they have the skills necessary to reconcile strife in a mutually beneficial manner. This increases confidence and improves chances for success which, in turn, fans the will to do the work required. Conversely, when people are confused or mistaken about the rules of right reason, their failures increase. They become hesitant, their trust in others dwindles and their desire to engage in civil discourse declines. As a result, the quality of negotiation goes down rather than up.

Theory and Practice

Developing high quality negotiation requires experience. This presupposes a connection between theory and practice.

Failure to appreciate the syllogistic connection between theory and practice is one of the more serious root errors that presently bruises many modern explantions. Some of the most crucial errors that hinder the development of negotiation quality are concerned with the question of how principles relate to facts and how conclusions apply to the needs at hand.

Being committed to principles is beneficial only if the principles are sound. Even when principles are sound, simply promoting them is not enough. A principle should be properly applied to the matters at hand or it can turn into its opposite. Classic syllogistic logic, when properly presented, clarifies distinctions between principles (major premises), facts (particular minor premises), and conclusions. If the connections are not valid, the conclusions do not logically follow. Society would run more smoothly if all students understood these basic matters before they leave school.

Misshapen logic thwarts peaceful solutions. Repeated failure takes the heart out of negotiation effort.


Being an art, individuals increase negotiation skill through development of understanding and through determination to improve. Conversely, negotiation quality decreases when neglect sets in. Resolve to improve implies that people in charge believe that negotiation is a practical possibility. To continuously work at acquiring understanding and to gain experience in negotiation craft requires conviction that the effort is worth the trouble.

Determination also implies that those engaged in a negotiation genuinely want the negotiation to succeed. Neglect usually occurs when the dominating figures in a society don't really believe negotiations can work satisfactorily and consequently don't develop the determination it takes to make negotiations succeed. Determination to succeed is easily undermined by root errors.


Preparation for negotiation requires critical study and attention to theory. Actual negations, one the other hand, are carried on in the liminal level of thinking. When getting down to brass tacks, cultivated candid commonsense is the operating mode of high quality negotiation.

Fortunately we in the USA and people around the world already have developed much commonsense. The basics we need for conducting high quality negotiation are already in place. [See Chapters 6 & 8]


Thankfully, at present, we live in a world where much high quality negotiation skill already exists. Much of value is now in place. Studies in conflict resolution show promise.

We only need a little improvement in the right spots to make major breakthroughs and enjoy dramatic success. Because we only need a little more, the project of attaining peaceful progress through rational improvement takes on added poignancy.

What a shame to nip the bud of civilization as it begins to flower! We, the huge middle majority who desire non-violent progress, already share almost enough basic sound rational thinking to provide an adequate logical basis on which to build problem solving skills to a level of expertise where we can consistently make improvements in a non-violent manner. Most of us want this. We, the moderate middle majority, already hold in common a vast number of elemental verities in our thought systems. We already possess enough sound rational skill to avoid a nuclear war or equivalent technical disaster if we learn how to work together more effectively. Simply appreciating the skills already in place can move us several steps ahead.

But many problems still remain. Along with the sound rational assumptions accepted in the style of our day, we also, unwittingly, have absorbed numerous serious root errors into our thinking patterns. While root verities strengthen the foundations on which we base our problem solving skills, root errors do the opposite. Some root errors are so insidious that they menace safe negotiation.

Root errors pose grave danger today because they set the stage for policy mistakes that invite the very disasters we, the moderate middle, most wish to avoid. To advance our abilities to progress in peace we need to sufficiently support root verities, adequately correct root errors, and enthusiastically promote sound rational thinking.


Mutually beneficial resolution of problems means the outcome of a negotiation is an improved situation for all involved. This asks a lot. It takes a high degree of negotiation skill to find ongoing solutions that actually benefit the whole range of people affected by the conflict.

To avoid rank injustice in a power conflict, the people involved must negotiate successfully. The best way to improve the negotiation quality is to adequately avoid root errors and logical fallacies that hinder the development of high level negotiation talents.

Ideologies infected with minus root themes tend to spread jaded ideas and attitudes. As cynical feelings propagate, so does discouragement. Normal people will not toil for objectives they believe are out of reach. They would rather play bridge.

The most effective way to counteract the hopelessness brought about by belligerent dialectical theories is to correct the root errors that lead to negative attitudes in the first place.

As the quality of negotiation increases, our ability to progress in peace advances. All along the line, the great hindrance to improving negotiation quality can be traced to unsuitable problem solving skills -- skills which are underdeveloped because root errors stand in the way. By adequately correcting the mistakes that hinder civil discourse, we enhance negotiation quality and advance our ability to progress in peace. When ideologists do the opposite we are in trouble.

The end of Chapter Two, Negotiation Quality.

Last Edit: Feb. 19, 2008