Deal fatigue

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Negotiation Anatomy

A young attorney experiencing deal fatigue yesterday.

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As rivers are t’incontinence, so shall the eagle cry:
“In this gamy culvert, unchary shall I lie
And thereupon, or in, if cruel gods will it, bravely die —”
Oh, pish and fie, nuncle! Your foe be scarce distracted
By such dreary chatter: ’tis a pledge more oft profess’d
Than e’er enacted.

—Shakespeare: King Edward Lear, IV, ii

Deal fatigue /diːl fəˈtiːɡ/ (n.)

The point at which an activity’s intrinsic tedium becomes so intolerable that it dawns on participants that the ditch in which they have been stubbornly insisting they will die is really just a rut on the side of an ugly hill leading nowhere in particular, doesn’t look an especially comfortable place even to lie down in, let alone bid a final adieu to this fragile existence, and that there is more fun to be had threatening to die in other ditches, on other hills, on other days, by passing up the opportunity to actually die, today, in this one. This revelatory moment happens spontaneously for all concerned participants, and often at about the same time. Usually on a Friday in the middle of the afternoon.

Commercial transactions all have a “point of deal fatigue” — it is more or less linear — at which point everyone goes sod it, forgets about typos, gives preposterous indemnities and just signs the damn contract.

Asymmetric deal fatigue as a negotiation gambit

The canny legal eagle keeps back enough dry powder to box on just when her opponent feels the dread hand of catatonia. Hence, the tactic of dripping issues in over time, rather than laying them all out up front. As each successive blow lands, it dents the oppo’s tolerance for lying in ditches — a tolerance, of course, “more oft profess’d than e’er enacted”. So, should your combatant lead with a calculation agent dispute right in the first clash of blades, you will parry and reply with stout riposte. But if she has worn you down over three weeks of thrust and counter-thrust on a series of NAV triggers — a tussle which you sense is finally subsiding — your energy to keep swinging should she then raise the calculation agent point may be quite impaired.

A modern negotiator must thus regard herself as some kind of endurance athlete.

Bureaucracy never sleeps

On the other hand, bureaucratic processes imposed by middle management cannot reach the point of deal fatigue. Policy will not allow it. It is a conceptual impossibility: the potential “fatigue curve” for bureaucratic tasks is thereby curved into a new dimension of tedial space-time; but in the flat, three-dimensional geometry of normal bore-space, the fatigue point for bureaucracy is asymptotic. It gets close — very, very close — to that line, but never crosses it. Instead, yawns away to an infinitely distant point (the “boredom heat death of the universe”) and those poor souls — subject matter experts, usually — who are compelled to follow that policy curve are trapped, wrung out and plastered for all infinity at the event horizon of utter dreck — a Schwarzschild radius around which many of us orbit quite closely enough already, thank you very much.

See also