Negotiations And Technology

Do you get the feeling that something unethical is going on behind the taxpayers’ backs?

Last week I thought there was a good possibility that someone was lying to our teachers about understanding Hawaii’s plan to evaluate the state’s classroom teachers. It seemed like management was using too many sources of data to measure teacher effectiveness and improve student outcomes.

I was wrong. No one was lying to anyone. It’s the mode of communications being used to negotiate that is probably to blame.

First, the teachers were offered a contract they didn’t like and they crushed it. The excuse given: There was not enough information on how the evaluation process would work. Second was the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s leadership asking them to re-vote on the contract they had rejected earlier, because now they had more information on how they would be evaluated, and if they turned it down it would give the leadership the authority to call a strike. With those mandates hanging over their heads, teachers voted to accept the contract offer with 66 percent of the vote.

Now a segment of the HSTA is calling for the union to release turnout figures of the vote. They want to know how many of their members voted in the mandated ballot. The question is why? Who cares? After all, they voted for a contract the governor has already said is invalid.

So now the union executive board members are meeting to figure out their next step.

What may be going on is that technology has affected the way negotiators talk with each other. The evolution of email, texting, voicemail, instant messaging and teleconferencing provides both sides more ways to communicate back and forth than ever before. Obviously, this kind of communication between parties has an impact on negotiating. For the taxpayer, the relevant question is whether negotiators are more or less likely to use ethically ambiguous tactics when they are physically removed from each other than when they meet face to face.

These technological advancements could be responsible for the nonsensical negotiations thus far. Face-to-face negotiations usually compel a negotiator to be more honest and cooperative because of the personal and emotional consequences of being caught in a lie in a face-to-face context.

And while email conversations may have fewer interruptions, it does offer more time for reflection and allows for fewer emotions to surface.

Sadly, if the release of the turnout is close, it could signal a threat to HSTA executive director Wil Okabe and pit one faction of the membership against the other. This may be good news for the governor, but not the HSTA.

In either case, negotiating by fatigue is a poor strategy when dealing with the taxpayers. They want this negotiation to end. Summer vacation is a poor thing to waste for students, teachers and parents.