NFL fans everywhere continue to marvel at the fact that the NFL Players’ Association and NFL owners may end up with a work stoppage on their hands. There will be massive losses on both sides, not to mention the residual losses based on the loss of momentum and popularity. Why does this irrationality in negotiation continue to happen over and over again throughout history, and can we avoid making the same mistakes? The answers are that we have two ways of thinking and maybe. One way of thinking is irrational, emotional, and unfortunately for us in the current environment, more common. This type of reaction worked well when our ancestors had to react quickly to a potential attack by a predator, but not when careful consideration would lead to a better result, as in this case. Whether we are capable of controlling these emotions is up for debate, but if we can, it helps if we develop an introspective outlook. It also helps if we are aware of our bias towards retaining only that information that fits our mental framework and seek contradictory opinions.
As a practical matter, what can the two sides do beyond listening to just about anyone not directly involved in the process? Offer a gift. This situation is as pure of an example of a strategic partnership that we can find. Both sides need each other and both sides can screw each other. The fact that we are not purely rational can work in our favor as well. We tend to overvalue a concession given unilaterally over a concession of equal value given as a trade-off.
Once the owners, say, decide to unilaterally give up their stated position regarding moving to an eighteen game season, the players’ reps will feel obligated to return the favor. If we look at this through the prism of game theory, the players must then decide between conceding on, say, a smaller percentage of the revenue, or take advantage of the situation by not reciprocating and use the concession as a new starting point. However, if they pull this trick too often, they may seem like they are winning temporarily, but still end up in a lockout. Additionally, public opinion would begin to swing rapidly toward the owners, resulting in a weakened position.