The Policymaker – Tracy Spicer, Founding Partner, Avenue Solutions

June 02, 2014

Successful Lobbyist on Finding Common Ground

The art of negotiation is pretty critical to my line of work. The art of compromise is a critical component to getting things accomplished. We’re operating in a divisive environment; it’s a Bi-Partisan Congress and not everybody sees things through the same lens. The art of negotiation comes into play with everything we do each and every day. Whereas in some businesses you may be negotiating a deal on any given day, a negotiation tends to creep into everything we do. It can be small items or larger deals — a big piece of legislation we’re negotiating, or a piece of language in a committee report and we’re trying to interpret what that means. It’s very prevalent in my line of work.

I worked on Capitol Hill for 10 years for Sen. Ted Kennedy and I watched him; he was a master negotiator. He negotiated various pieces of legislation with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and I always tried to emulate that. He taught me a few things: Always enter a negotiation well-informed; make sure you stop and listen to what the other side has to offer; and don’t be afraid to fight for what you believe in, but at the end of the day compromise to get to a goal line.

Rarely in life do you accomplish everything you set out to accomplish on your first try. It’s important to be patient and steadfast and to adapt to changing environments, and when at first you don’t succeed try, try again. That’s how success is largely defined – to negotiate and to make changes and alter your game plan and expectations as the situation arises.

A negotiation I worked on was not immediately successful, but we were able to turn around happened about three or four months ago. We launched an effort to help prevent the Obama administration from cutting another health-insurance program widely utilized by seniors known as Medicare Advantage. Despite our efforts, in February, the administration issued a proposal that cut Medicare Advantage rates by almost 6 percent on average and made policy changes to the program as well.

We reconfigured our strategy and went back to the negotiation table and launched an advocacy campaign that included lobbying Congress, engaging stakeholders, and encouraging some grassroots and grasstops efforts to try to weigh in as well, and we were able, over another six weeks, to minimize the cuts … not entirely, but we did improve the amount of the cuts and lessen it and get some policy changes that were helpful to the program included as well.

Negotiating combines so many skills. It requires intellect, strategic thinking, relationship building and strong communication skills. No matter what profession you’re in, you need to utilize so many of those skills in order to be successful. If at all possible, try to avoid entering into a negotiation unprepared. It’s better to take the time to develop the facts and make strong arguments and build some consensus because there’s always strength in numbers.

Stop and listen along the way. You may have a great case and argument to make, but the other side does as well and it’s harder to combat an argument if you don’t actually hear them out. No matter how prepared you are, there’s always something that arises and something you didn’t think about, and you need to be open to different points of view. The biggest pitfall to avoid is to not be so convinced by your own position or argument that you’re not willing to hear an alternative perspective.

My best advice is to be prepared; do your homework. Another of my greatest lessons is don’t be afraid to collaborate.Oftentimes, in our effort to be successful for ourselves or for our clients, we look from within to find the answers, and usually I find that when I collaborate, everyone brings different strengths to the table. It’s a great way to find common ground … and finding that common ground and building out from there is an easier way to negotiate.


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