What negotiation has to do with the tragic crimes at Penn State


Once you start paying attention to negotiation in life as I have, you see many failures and tragedies in the media through that lens.  Thinking about Penn State, we know that a lot of people including Joe Paterno knew what Jerry Sandusky had done to boys.  It seems that no one could bring themselves to do the right thing in that culture, something that most believe should be so simple and obvious, namely, call the police and ban Jerry Sandusky from Penn State and its facilities.

I’ll tell you what makes it hard – thinking that no one is going to listen. Has that ever happened to you, or is it happening to you now? You know about an unethical or ineffective practice going on somewhere, but you just think it is pointless to say anything, or that you will somehow suffer negative consequences if you say anything.

You may prefer to see yourself as someone who would always do the right thing, but what does that really reveal about you? I hate to break it to you, but being absolutely sure that you will always do the right thing reveals arrogance on your part. I am not preaching here, because I carry that same self-righteous arrogance, maybe more than many of you.

So what’s the real problem? Well- we know that Joe Paterno had one interest – winning football games. That’s it.  And a lot of people profited from his focus on winning football games.  Many if not all involved parties failed to have a mission and purpose of their own. Who included in their mission and purpose the honor and respectability of  Penn State University?  If someone did, they were not strong enough negotiators to move their agenda forward.  Most just thought they were good people, and believed that was enough to protect themselves and what they cared about. They were dazzled by Joe Paterno, and lost sight of themselves and their own responsibility to think beyond their own self-interest. Joe Paterno’s success led to their laziness. They just rode his coat tails.

Imagine anyone going to Joe Paterno or another Penn State official and asking them if they were willing to sacrifice winning seasons for the honor of the university. Notice I am not saying that their mission and purpose needed to be to protect children. It is dishonorable not to protect children, so their mission and purpose would have made it crystal clear what they ought to do when they found out about Sandusky. 

Mission and purpose are very necessary to all of us because we are surrounded by decision makers who have faulty or shallow motives. We can’t just make excuses anymore. We know what it takes now. We need to elevate our game as negotiators and develop a mission and purpose that will help all parties connected to our institutions build the vision they require to make decisions that will benefit those that they are supposed to serve.  These decision makers need you and I to help them to see themselves going down very hard if they don’t act. No one did that for Joe Paterno, because everyone was wanting Joe Paterno to do something for them.

At CNI, you have an opportunity to become a strong and effective enough negotiator to actually do some good, and prevent some bad, rather than just talk about the good you think you’d do when you see the latest human failing in the news.


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