I'm looking for the title of a short story that I would like to offer as suggested reading to my kids.

It was in the late 80's early 90s when I first read it. English was the language. It may be part of a collection.

From what I can remember, the premise is that humans were at war with space aliens. These aliens decide to start peace negotiations. Hoping to get beneficial terms they pick a distant unimportant outpost, knowing that the official diplomats would take a long time to arrive. It falls upon the staff of outcasts and screw-ups at the outpost to negotiate. The base commander uses the psychological traits of his staff to assemble a negotiating team.

One member of the negotiating team is someone who is paranoid. This person uncovers tricks and traps in the Aliens' proposals.

Another is someone who finds it impossible to make a decision.

When the official diplomats arrived, they were astounded with the job the staff performed negotiating a fair treaty.

This story helped me form an attitude of "Do the best you can with what you have."

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    Someone else seeking the same story, none of the answers look definitive: reddit.com/r/scifi/comments/5ngko6/… – Harabeck Oct 16 '19 at 21:40
  • @FuzzyBoots, thanks for the title change. Much more descriptive. – B540Glenn Oct 16 '19 at 21:45
  • @Harabeck, thanks for that thread. I check out the suggestions. – B540Glenn Oct 16 '19 at 21:46
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    I was going to post that list. Clans of the Aphaen Moon looks promising, but it's a novel (the short story it's based off of just had three mental patients trying to figure out how they got to where they were and accidentally getting it right). – FuzzyBoots Oct 16 '19 at 21:58

Is it possible you're thinking of "According to His Abilities," by Harry Harrison as per Old short story where humans deliberately pick an insane man to lead a contact mission with an alien species? It has a similar theme of humans winning the negotiation due to a paranoiac.

“Mentally sick -- and on the way to being cured until this happened. I hate to think how long it will set him back. Not as sick as some, he has almost a classic case of paranoia simplex, which is why we could use him. His delusions of persecution relate to his actual perception of his surroundings. So he was right at home down there. If you had read all the reports instead of blundering in you would have found out that those aliens have a society where a condition very much resembling paranoia is the norm. They feel that everyone is against them -- and they are right. Everyone is. No sane person could have been counted on to have the right reactions in such a society -- we needed someone who suffered from the same sickness. The only thing I’m even remotely happy about in this whole mess is that it wasn’t my decision to send Briggs down there. They decided that upstairs and I did the dirty work. I and Briggs.”

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  • I will look into that, but I don't think it's the same one. IIRC, the post commander was "normal". – B540Glenn Oct 16 '19 at 21:48

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