Who’s Winning? Lessons from The Government Shutdown Crisis

Linda J. Popky, Founder of Leverage2Market Associates

What started out as a dispute between President Trump and Congress about a wall on the U.S./Mexican border has now turned into a standoff impacting nearly a million government employees who have gone nearly three weeks without a paycheck.

The latest volleys in this drama came Tuesday night with a short Oval Office address by the President, followed by a response from Democratic Congressional Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. In spite of high expectations, nothing really changed.

The administration has dug in its heels, insisting that it will be their way or the highway. For their part, the Democrats say they’ve previously supported additional funding for increased border security, but they won’t budge further. So there.

Meanwhile, the collateral damage is to federal employees and their families. About 400,000 people have been furloughed; another 400,000 are being made to work without getting paid. And millions of Americans are impacted by the closure of federal offices—from processing passports to running national parks.

Who’s winning the war of public opinion on this one? Right now, the answer is no one.

As a former reality TV star, Donald Trump is a master at creating emotional cliffhanger situations. We saw this with the “Caravan” that was supposedly posing a dire threat to the country in October—but dropped off the radar screen immediately after the midterm elections. Now the focus is on “building the wall.”

No one wants to be the first to blink. While each side believes they are in the right, the result is very, very wrong. Until both groups agree to let something go, this impasse will continue. Negotiators tell us the best way to solve a stalemate is to find common ground, and to craft a solution that allows each side to have some kind of win. “I-win-you-lose” only builds ongoing resentment and frustration that helps no one.

While both sides have entrenched positions, they do agree about the need for better security on the border. It’s the form of that security that’s at issue. Changing the discussion from building a wall to strengthening border security may provide the common ground needed to start a constructive discussion.

Who will really win this game? The party that dials down the rhetoric and works to get the government reopened and employees back at paying jobs quickly…without decimating the other side. The winner is the side that acts credibly to defuse this tense situation and come up with a win-win situation that can represent disparate points of view.

As business people, we should not pretend this kind of problem is unique to government. The scale involved here in terms of both people and dollars is much larger, but businesses encounter these types of situations on a regular basis. Sometimes the conflict is with other businesses; other times it’s internal.

The answer is not to discourage multiple opinions. The heat of friction drives innovation—when it’s managed appropriately in a win-win framework. We have to remember that sometimes the bigger win comes not from holding an unwavering position, but from driving the compromise that allows forward movement to occur.

Linda Popky - Who’s Winning? Lessons from The Government Shutdown CrisisAbout the Author: Linda J. Popky, founder of Leverage2Market Associates, is an award-winning Silicon Valley-based strategic marketing expert who is the author of the book Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters. Follow her on Twitter at @popky #mktgabove.