What Great Bosses Know About Kennedy’s Negotiating Skills

Set aside your politics or your feelings about his self-inflicted problems, if you can, as we focus on one aspect of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s legacy: his skills as a negotiator.

Even his political opponents say deal-making was his forte. This morning, on Phoenix radio station KTAR-FM, Sen. John McCain said of Kennedy:

“There also was a very important attribute that he had, which is less common than you might think, and that is, his word was his bond. Even if it meant he had to vote against his party’s position, or in some cases his own position, in order to make the right concessions and get the right results.”

What skills did Kennedy bring to the table as a negotiator? Here’s what Politico‘s David Rogers wrote:

“Few senators could better read a vote than Kennedy. Walking from the Capitol steps to his office in the Senate Russell building, he could dissect in a few short sentences who switched sides and why. He understood the chemistry of legislation, when the moment was ripe to bring forces together. And his personal skills were a huge asset for him in the long decades when Washington shifted away from the liberal activism of the 1960s.

“Kennedy’s energy was legendary. He once jumped out of a car at a traffic light to corral a House Democrat on immigration legislation. Looking for some help on a defense issue — and discovering that the father of a House Appropriations Committee aide was ill in a facility on Cape Cod — Kennedy surprised the family by showing up for a visit.”

Let’s break down those skills:

  • Knowing what promises to make — and keeping them
  • Knowing when to compromise — and why
  • Doing one’s homework on the positions, priorities and pressures of others
  • Understanding the importance of timing
  • Maintaining energy and momentum
  • Building personal relationships, even (and perhaps especially) with adversaries

Given today’s political and media climate, rife with ad hominem attacks, it’s worth remembering the value of being passionate in pursuit of one’s cause, yet civil and collegial with one’s opponents.

That’s not just my opinion — it’s at the core of one of my all-time favorite books on negotiation. In today’s three-minute “What Great Bosses Know” podcast, I share why relationship-building is key to getting things done:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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