5 Things The House Sit-In Taught Us About Negotiation in the Workplace

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Photo credit CNN Politics: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/23/politics/gallery/house-democrats-sit-in/index.html
Photo credit CNN Politics

Following the recent Orlando nightclub shooting, lawmakers entered into a fray of debate over gun control, and most recently, rebellion in the House. June 23rd marked day-two of a sit-in led by House democrats who are demanding progress for gun-control law adjustments. Earlier this week, four gun control bills failed to pass in Congress, which ultimately spurred the sit-in response from democratic leaders.

The sit-in began at 11:24 a.m. on Wednesday, and gun control advocates hosted an overnight vigil outside of the House as democratic leaders remained on the floor in protest.

Despite this, House Speaker Paul Ryan adjourned Congress early Thursday morning for vacation after various gun control measures were avoided this week. The democrats, however, remained at the sit-in and continued to offer speeches pressuring leaders to take action for stronger gun-control measures as well as singing and chanting as part of their protest. The chant, “No Bill, No Break” was one of the leading mantras for the cause.

Georgia Representative John Lewis, who was one of the individuals at the forefront of the sit-in, remarked via Twitter, “Speaker Ryan, we will not leave without acting for the victims and families of reckless gun violence.”

On Wednesday, Ryan tweeted, “Retweet if you agree. The sit-in by House democrats is nothing more than a publicity stunt.” His remarks were met with both support and a barrage from those favoring gun control reform. Many who disagree with Ryan and House republicans took the opportunity to denigrate Ryan’s stance, resulting in an overall emotional uptick on social media.

While this type of protest is rare in Congress, it isn’t unprecedented. In 2008, House republicans staged a sit-in pushing for the expansion of oil drilling.

So, what can employees learn from the sit-in?

Sit-ins are not an uncommon form of protest in society at large, and occasionally enter the workplace as well. When these forms of protest gain momentum, leaders held responsible for the order of the workplace are faced with a difficult situation. Striking the right balance of order and authority to quell any emotions that could cause chaos is a priority, but acquiescing in an effort to hear the motivations behind the effort is equally important. This results in a challenging balance to strike that risks angering the protesting party or opening up a series of similar protests and demands.

Halting the conversation, as the House appears to be doing now, temporarily suspends the handling of the issue head-on, but leaves a lot of questions as to what the next few days and weeks will hold.

If you’re involved in a workplace protest, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your voice is heard:

Filibuster your meeting like it’s your job (literally).

Organize your thoughts and write them down, gather insight from peers who feel the same way you do, and be persistent in your delivery to ensure your voice is heard.

Use data to get your point across.

Back up the legitimacy of your demands with hard numbers, and your superiors will be more likely to acknowledge your claims and come to a compromise.

Raise public awareness.

Use social media to get the word out about the dispute at hand. House democrats used the hashtag #NoBillNoBreak and the news spread like wild fire. Using social media, the dems were able to ignite a conversation about gun control and garner support from the public. The sit-in is still dominating conversations all over social media and Google searches.

Don’t budge, but be prepared for the consequences. 

The democratic sit-in lasted more than 24 hours. If your opponent is especially headstrong, you may find yourself in a protest that goes on for days, weeks or even months. You must prepare yourself for the possibility that when it finally ends, it won’t go in your favor. But if you’re firm in your conviction and determined to make progress, then don’t lose will power! Perseverance isn’t easy, but it’s almost always effective.

Negotiate until you can agree on an acceptable conclusion.

The art of negotiation doesn’t come naturally to most people, but it’s imperative for success. Luckily, negotiation is a skill that can be learned. There are plenty of books on the topic, and endless resources online. The most important thing to remember is: take your ego off the table. Keep the focus solely on results and what would be the best long-term outcome for both parties. By taking the emphasis off the individuals involved and keeping it on the facts, the negotiation is less likely to become hostile.


Claire Topalian is a writer, non-profit Communications professional, and advocate for diversity in business. She currently leads Communications and the Startup Women initiative at UP Global, an international non-profit that builds startup communities through educational programs and events. You can follow her on Twitter @clairetopalian.