Volume 1, Issue 7 (Originally Published on 16 April 2012)
The Law School staff are all well and good, but when school's out we're left largely to our own devices. Last week, the Easter Bunny and Hot Cross Buns suggested a more liturgical set of Dispute Resolution materials, namely how Jesus would go in a negotiation.
The clang of iron shackles cuts across a sweltering Roman afternoon. The hot wind blows sand into an air of anticipation as a crowd gathers to witness a rare sparring ...
Pilate: Art thou the King of the Jews?
Jesus: Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
Pilate: Am I a Jew?
The tender arts of deflection and obfuscation waltz lightly, no side willing to engage. A veiled threat flows:
Jesus: My kingdom is not of this world: if [it were], then would my servants fight.
Brandishing his Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) for all to see, Jesus draws attention to the immense power disparity between the two: on the one side, Roman bureaucrat Pontius Pilate, ground down by the ceaseless toil of public office, and an insatiable constituency; on the other, Jesus Christ QC, personal representative of the Creator of the Universe.
Banisher of tax collectors (without arbitration), defender of the poor against the mighty (without conciliation), and partly responsible for that ultimate spectre of adversarialism, Judgment Day itself; Jesus is The Master of Aggressive Negotiation.
Pilate should have seen the odds stacked against him, and he should have considered alternatives to positional negotiation. Fisher and Ury’s “Negotiation Jujitsu”, for example, would have helped to break the cycle of reactive scuffling. Instead, his backbone remains taut:
Pilate: Art thou a King then?
Jesus: Thou sayest that I am a King.
Pilate attempts to bring Jesus’ Worst Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (WATNA) into relief:
Pilate: Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
Again, his form fits poorly to the fuss. Threats don’t work with Jesus.
Jesus: Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above...
Jesus’ coup de grace is a classic positional negotiation tool: the “reference to higher authority.” Pilate concludes the proceedings in failure, his confidence shaken and his reputation in tatters.
Fisher and Ury argue that responding positionally to tactics such as Jesus’ results in “a vicious cycle of attack and defense, and [a waste of] a lot of time and energy in useless pushing and pulling.” This point is particularly salient to the case here, as Jesus is indeed Master of All Time and (one assumes) Energy: positional negotiation plays right into His Holy hands.
Pilate needed to adopt an interest-based approach. Not doing so cost him his preferred outcome, and any semblance of a respectable legacy. Practitioners and students of negotiation would do well to learn from his failings.
**All dialogue:  KJB (Gospel: John) chs 18, 19 (per amicus curiae Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ QC).