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Curiosity: what a fantastic flaw!

By Michel Ghazal


Among the dozen or so biases in negotiation, there is one that I consider particularly problematic: overestimating your self-confidence.

This bias locks negotiators into their certainties, reduces their chances of coming up with innovative solutions and, above all, inexorably leads them to neglect their preparation.

In any negotiation, if there is one certainty, it is that grey areas and uncertainties are omnipresent. Already, observation shows that the negotiator often has a partial vision of his case and his interests. What then of the interests of the other party? It's an opaque world that's not easy to understand, and it would be pretentious to think you know it well. The resulting certainty and lack of preparation lead to results that are far from optimised.


Curiosity in action

An effective negotiator, on the other hand, has a disposition that opens up unsuspected avenues for resolving problems and breaking deadlocks: curiosity. This demonstrates our openness to learning and learning from others.

This is a far cry from the common perception of curiosity as a nasty flaw. Indiscretion certainly is, but curiosity is not.

When faced with someone who stubbornly asserts their positions, rather than throwing out an opposing position, begin your response with "Help me to understand followed by an open exploration question : "How is what I'm proposing not in your best interests?".

By proceeding by questioning rather than assertingThe negotiator uses one of the surest ways of opening up to the other party and avoiding sterile and ineffective trench warfare. Obviously, the secret of success lies in silence that follows: ask the question and wait for the answer. Sometimes it's a good idea to ask the other person's permission before starting to question them: "To understand better, if you agree, I'd like to ask you a few questions".

By listening, we demonstrate our openness to learning. This causes cracks in the rigid armour of the person we are talking to and opens up avenues for us to penetrate the rational underpinnings of their resistance. This increases our chances of overcoming them and winning them over to our cause.

Showing your curiosity means overcoming resistance at home: understanding the other person's version of the story in no way implies agreeing with it. Each person's version may evolve, but under no circumstances should you abandon your vision of the facts out of hand.

  1. Train all the social partners to "Interest-Based Negotiation". Why is this? Achieving a concrete change in the way people deal with their problems and differences together requires a change in the way they think about the nature of negotiation, about themselves and about each other. Now, with the interest-based negotiation method, there is no advice that I would give to one of the parties that I could not give to the others. Let me remind you that the objective is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that satisfies the interests of all the parties involved.
  2. Negotiation training must be spouses. Why is this? The simple fact of sitting around the same table to learn overcomes the blocking belief that interests are necessarily in conflict and reinforces the idea that everyone shares common interests. Similarly, getting involved in a shared activity is the surest way of getting to know the other person better and discovering the person behind the role. Finally, this helps to break down the assumption that "the world is as I see it", helps to discover that there are several truths and that differences in perception are one of the roots of the problems encountered.

In conclusion: Learn to understand before you start.

Curiosity is to negotiation what the stethoscope is to the doctor. A tool for diagnosing and understanding before taking informed decisions and action.

In this sense, this ability is a magic key to opening doors, opening up new perspectives and generating unexpected solutions.

To conclude, I quote Albert Einstein: "I don't have any particular talents. I'm just passionately curious"..

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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