It’s better to make “yes” easy than to make “no” hard, but it is contrary to human nature.

I have been negotiating settlements with insurance companies for years and get more money for my clients using that principle above than any other strategy. Except for life insurance, where you are paying the premium for an exact amount of money when the insured dies, ALL OTHER INSURANCE SETTLEMENTS PAY BASED ON SOME KIND OF NEGOTIATION. Mostly, you are paying the premium to get an amount up to the policy limits if a certain kind of loss occurs.

The key is that to me IT ISN’T A STRATEGY; it’s the right attitude.  Here’s what I mean: In almost any human interaction, we can make it easier for the other person (whether it’s an insurance employee or a negotiator for a particular side in a conflict) to say “yes” to our request or try to make it hard to say “no”. My work with insurance provides lots of great examples of how this works. Here are some general principles:

  1. Assume that the other side IS negotiating in good faith, meaning that they want to do the right thing. But what if they aren’t? That’s okay, often they aren’t, but as you apply these principles, they can move from being an adversary–wanting to win, to beat you–to being a friend, or at least caring about how you feel. However, the best way to establish good faith is to state your assumptions and ask questions as taglines. For example, “I want to do the right thing for all parties here, so that we can all feel good about the solutions, and I hope you feel the same; don’t you agree?”
  2. Get the assumptions and expectations of both sides out in the open and make sure you are both “speaking the same language.” Examples: “What I want to happen here is ______ (describe your desired outcome in “visual” terms, meaning that if you each were able to record the outcome, it would look substantially similar). Once those outcomes have been described, you will know how to move closer to a “win-win” (or you may find that the differences are too great to get to “yes”).
  3. If it’s a situation where a written contract is involved, like an insurance policy, know exactly what it says about such a situation. Make sure that what you are asking for is within reasonable bounds. If it is not, then the situation WILL become adversarial, and it’s your fault. Then it becomes about making it hard to say “no” rather than easy to say “yes.”
  4. If it starts getting ugly at this point, like the example in my post entitled Let there be peace…or not, it is either time for bringing in an independent authority, like an arbitrator, mediator or judge, or switching to the alternative strategy, which I refer to as “making it hard to say “no.”

I have never had to resort to this strategy, because it will usually create an enemy. You may think you’ve won in the short term by getting your way, but if you have to work with or live with this person, you can be assured that they will find ways to pay you back, unless you can win them over. While I could use the example from my other post–the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–to illustrate this state of war, I don’t think that’s a good example because they never got past #1, good faith. Each wants to crush the other side, and what further makes it intractable is that each side is also a proxy for a larger conflict.

The negative side  of the “make it hard to say no” principle is this: If we want something and the other side doesn’t want to say ” yes ” no matter what inducements we have offered (the positive side of making it hard to say “no”), we can try threatening to do harm or withhold good if they stick to “no.” That is the approach of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems to lead to more of the same. If it’s a court of law or divorce situation, it can become sue and counter sue. When there is a lack of good faith, or when egos are threatened, or emotions get stirred up, there is only one way out of the anger escalation spiral. I will explain that in my next post–Ideas on the most intractable conflict of our time.

After this digression to politics, I will return to my insurance example. The settlement offered my client was initially $7,500, and they had some vague written justifications. The policy didn’t specify what the damages should have been–they never do. Making it easy to say “yes”, I cited some court cases with similar circumstances in which the judgments ranged from $25,000 to $50,000. The claims guy them raised his offer to $10,000.

In response I cited a Washington state statute which mandated arbitration when the potential judgment was under $50,000 (the policy allowed the company to refuse arbitration, but the statute modified the policy). I then explained that, in consideration of saving the insurance company the time, money and potentially negative publicity of losing an arbitration, my client would be reasonable and not ask for the maximum possible arbitration amount, let alone what it might be if we went to court, given the strength of our case. The insurance claims guy said he could go a little higher and asked what our number was.

Normally they expect you to ask for a little more than their offer. I asked for a number which I said would be fair to both parties: $30,000, which was halfway between his offer of $10,000 and the arbitration limit of $50,000. He immediately agreed, my client signed his waiver and the check was in the mail (it was).  The way I framed the ask gave the insurance guy a rationale to accept it.

Perhaps I could have asked for more, but it would have violated what I call the 50/50 principle. For example, if someone wants to split compensation on a case, and there is no way to accurately assess how much work each will have to do, the 50/50 split is usually accepted instantly. It feels fair. Anything other than that split will lead to a degree of arbitrariness, which universally feels like it could be unfair.

Anything that breeds even a tiny degree of suspicion tends to harm the agreement. The strategy of making it hard to say “no” almost always involves a threat. “Agree to what I want or else ” never feels good to either party and should ultimately be a weak fallback when you can’t get to “yes.” Unfortunately it’s also the foundation of our adversarial legal system.

Can you do your duty despite “survivors guilt?”

Now that I have gotten a lot of the polemics out of my system with my previous blog purges posts, I want to put on my compassion hat and address a subject that, as common as it is will no doubt be even more common in the future: “survivor’s guilt” or trauma-related guilt.

(from the website “Trauma-related guilt refers to the unpleasant feeling of regret stemming from the belief that you could or should have done something different at the time a traumatic event occurred. Trauma survivors may also experience a particular type of trauma-related guilt, called survivor guilt. Survivor guilt is often experienced when a person has made it through some kind of traumatic event while others have not. A person may question why he survived. He may even blame himself for surviving a traumatic event as if he did something wrong.”

I want to be sensitive about this, as it feels real to sufferers, but… I don’t get it. When I was 24 I was sent to Vietnam courtesy of the U.S. Army, starting out as an infantry grunt but soon found myself, due to my having a B.A. in psychology, being assigned as what the military called a psych tech. In my case, I was the sole arbiter of who was and was not fit for combat, operating from a fire base called Quan Loi, many miles and a long helicopter ride from professional supervision. A degree in psychology was hardly any preparation at all for my duties.

In a sense I had the power of life and death, in that if I decided someone needed a break from combat, I could assign them non-combat duty for up to 90 days. How did I decide who was fit and who was not? Eeny meeny miny moe, more or less. But I actually was quite good at it and even maintained some semblance of sanity. I can’t say the same for my predecessor, who became a nervous wreck before he handed off the pleasure to me.

One day a soldier came to see me, desiring to be relieved of duty as helicopter door gunner. His story was that he was having blackouts, periodically losing awareness. I asked for examples but he couldn’t give me any. I asked his crew members but none of them were aware of any such behavior. In the absence of any corroborating testimony (including his own) I couldn’t justify relieving him of duty. Two weeks went by and I saw him again. This time he was dead, as were most of his crew. The one survivor said that my patient pulled the pin on a hand grenade and then appeared to forget to throw it, just staring at it. It blew up and caused the helicopter to crash.

I could have used this incident to beat myself up, calling into question my judgment and my competence, justifying quitting or sinking into drug abuse. I felt traumatic guilt for a few weeks, then asked myself the questions, “do I think someone else could do a better job if I quit? Wouldn’t quitting be indulging in my feelings of guilt to the detriment of my patients and my duty?” My answers led me back to the job, with a resolution to be more thorough. That is why I still have trouble understanding the degree to which so many people allow themselves to be debilitated by guilt that they survived or made a bad decision.

Existence is full of uncertainty. Everyone will make bad decisions, we will know people who died or were maimed by horrors we were spared from, but life goes on and our duty remains. True judicial guilt usually means a person consciously did wrong and deserves either punishment or making restitution. But what we call guilt feelings when we didn’t consciously do wrong can be an indulgence that justifies shirking our duties.

One of my favorite sayings is ” I slept and dreamt that life was pleasure. I awoke and found that life was duty. I acted and found that duty is pleasure.”


Who needs yet another review of The Shack?

The apostle Paul already wrote the definitive review of The Shack, in 2 Timothy 4:3, almost 2,000 years ago (about A.D.61 or 65), while he was imprisoned in Rome, and aware of his impending death. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Paul also had the solution, as he exhorted Timothy, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In other words, press on, ignore the foolishness, stand for the truth no matter the personal cost. Easy for you to say, right Paul? Not really, as Paul was certainly one to live according to the advice he gave others. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded, rather than crucified, since he was a Roman citizen (membership has its privileges, I guess). So rather than offer another review of The Shack from the comfort of my home in the land of the free, I will just state that if I can say at the end of my life, even if that end is premature, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” I will die with a smile on my face.  My ears don’t itch, do yours?

Do the right thing.

No, this is not about the Spike Lee movie of the same name, it’s about the GREAT CONUNDRUM. Let’s not confuse that with the “great commission” either, even though obeying Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” would eliminate most of the conundrums of life. The GREAT CONUNDRUM I am referring to is, “how do I know what is the right thing to do?”

This question causes untold agony, keeps legions of therapists employed, sells countless books, popularizes no end of made-for-TV gurus, leads to much prayer and re-prayer (when the first answer that comes isn’t the one we wanted), and keeps a whole therapeutic culture afloat. Let me simplify this. When you are confronted with life’s harder choices, the right action is almost always the one you least want to take.

That answer is consistent with my view of human nature. While human beings are capable of mercy, forgiveness, heroism and self-sacrifice, such actions are NOT the result of doing what comes naturally. What is natural, what feels good, is to take the (apparently) easy way out (though almost always that “easy way” yields the worst result), cut corners, put off whatever is uncomfortable, claim our rights, shirk or transfer our responsibilities, and finally blame someone else when it all goes wrong, which tends to be the result of doing what comes naturally. Of course, I include myself in the foregoing analysis. Do you?

A life pattern of doing what is comfortable–“the path of least resistance”–will inexorably lead to poverty and frustration, broken relationships, and then excuse-making and blaming (the “system”, parents, whomever and whatever is the explanation du jour for why life didn’t turn out). Combine that pattern with the drugs of wishful thinking and self-pity, and you have a death spiral. There is a way out.

It’s never too early to begin developing the habit of doing the hard things. The key word is habit! I’ve heard it said that elephants can be restrained by a chain around their ankle, a chain that is anchored to a stake in the ground, a stake that can be pulled up with virtually no effort by an adult elephant. Because said elephant was trained as a baby with a chain and a stake that was too strong for them, which caused great pain when they struggled against, they eventually learned to stop struggling and stand passively. Habit is a cable, too strong to break…if you’re an animal and cannot recognize that your behavior is a habit. As a human being, you can replace bad habits with good ones…or not.

The “therapeutic culture” we live in seems to encourage blaming your circumstances on something other than your habits, as if you can’t help yourself. Many years ago I read something by Zig Ziglar that greatly encouraged me to start new habits. At the time he wrote it, he was morbidly obese and could barely walk from one end of his block to the other. One day he got SO disgusted with himself, that he began an exercise program. He started walking, and the first week his goal was just once around the block. When he accomplished that, he slightly increased his pace and distance, until he was walking a mile or so. Then it was fast walking the mile, then jogging it. After months of slightly increasing speed and distance, running became a habit. How do you know when an activity has become a habit? Doing it feels more “natural” and comfortable than not doing it.

This lesson is for everyone. Human beings DO what feels comfortable and natural, so if what you are doing is the wrong thing, slowly and gradually do something better until it feels easier to do it than not to. BUT, in order to undertake such discipline, you must, like Zig, become disgusted with the results of not being disciplined. That will be $100 please. 




The epidemic of ______ophobias and “hate speech.”

It’s not good enough among certain segments of our population to simply disagree with ideas or religions or sexual practices. If you disagree with a media-favored group, you catch a phobia. It’s become an epidemic. But unlike other epidemics, there is no patient zero. No one knows who started the homophobic or Islamophobic name calling, yet it’s become the most popular form of stifling dissent, way less messy than truncheons and jackboots. The effects are more insidious than bloodier methods.

A language is how we communicate with each other, and arbitrarily changing the meaning of words is not a casual thing, it destroys truth itself. A phobia is an irrational fear marked by dramatic physiological changes and severe anxiety. Sufferers of real phobias should rise up against the labelers for denigrating their experience. The truth is that almost no one who disagrees with homosexual practices is phobic, and almost no one who disagrees with the Islamic concept of God is phobic. They disagree. If their disagreements become expressed through harm, they should be held accountable by the law, like all of us.

There is something far more insidious going on though. When any person or group deliberately changes the meaning of words to promote their cause or to stifle dissent, they undermine the truths on which their culture is based. The Nazis were masters of language twisting and disinformation, of the sowing of suspicion and fear, but then again that’s what totalitarians do. The spirit and core of totalitarianism is the drive to control what others do and even how they think. Totalitarian methods may differ, but as messy as the truncheon and jackboot are, they are less effective at stifling dissent than hate labeling and language manipulation. Yes, I am saying that labeling disagreement as “hate-speech” or labeling someone who disagrees that homosexuality is healthy as a “homophobe” (which automatically means that whatever they say is “hate speech) is ultimately more damaging to a “free society” than truncheons and dungeons and is a more insidious method for stifling disagreement.

Those who love truth and are not ashamed of themselves have no reason to fear disagreement. Those who cannot stand to even listen to a dissenting opinion loathe themselves or their own practices. How better to explain the rabid hatred they display towards disagreement while they simultaneously claim to love free speech?

Let there be peace, or not.

At home, when my wife or children used to occasionally get into a tiff with someone, and wanted to use me as a sounding board, I would listen to their grievances, and then ask, “who wants to resolve that conflict the most?” That’s the person who will make peace first.

I wonder if this idea will fly on the world stage. Taking perhaps the most bitter dispute I can think of as an example of how this would work–the Israeli Palestinian conflict–here are my questions to each side for a peaceful resolution:

1. Are you willing to create and implement a win-win solution, at least in principle? It may not be possible but is it your goal?

2. Are you willing to concentrate on how things are now, in the present, and seek a solution that works for both parties now?

3. Are you willing to ask for forgiveness for wrongs you have committed and are you willing to forgive wrongs done to you?

4. Are you willing to sincerely question your own motives, assumptions and beliefs, and submit to correction when you are wrong?

5. Are you willing to first agree on general principles that will govern your solution, rather than fighting over particulars?

6. If you cannot say “yes” to all the previous questions, are you willing to agree to disagree on some points while finding others that you both agree on?

7. If all of the foregoing fails, then who has the biggest guns and the most willingness to use them? Because that is the next step.

So when you hear the words “peace process” don’t be terribly surprised when it blows up.


Social justice? Darwin vs. Jesus

Let’s first visit with Charles Darwin, writing in The Descent of Man, as he gave his approval for the idea that”the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated” among “savages,” and disapproved of how civilized men “build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick, “with the result that “the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.” Then, comparing man to livestock (which is still a big step up from amoebas) Darwin added, “no one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” Darwin especially disliked how “the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members.”

Then there is Jesus Christ, in the book of Matthew 25:34-40. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Those crusaders for social justice follow whom?

Just saying….