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Interest-based negotiation: 10 misconceptions to overcome

By Michel Ghazal

The evidence of the "Interest-based Negotiation" approach, which at the European Negotiation Centre we call the "Mutual Gains Strategy", is obvious, but putting it into practice comes up against obstacles that are not easy to overcome. A multitude of preconceived ideas, confusions and myths about negotiation are responsible for a large proportion of failures or mediocre results, and it is important to "put them right" from the outset.
Not to mention the fact that many so-called experts confuse "Interest-based Negotiation" with "Being Reasonable" and suggest that a Win/Win outcome is always possible, which is often contradicted by the harsh reality on the ground. As a result, this approach is saddled with an inappropriate connotation of kindness coupled with a belief that it is unsuited to devious negotiators.


The most common misconceptions about negotiation :


As for the nature of the negotiations :

1. The cake would be limited once and for all. What one wins, the other inevitably loses. It can only be a win/lose relationship and so everyone will do everything to be the winner.
2. Negotiation is comparable to a competition: the only valid objective is to beat the other party and win.
3. To get what you want, you need to adopt extreme positions. Progress would be made through an exchange of concessions, which would have to be released in dribs and drabs.
4. It's more like a game of lying poker: to succeed, you have to wear a mask and reveal nothing about your emotions and interests. The watchword would be: don't give away any information about yourself and your needs, because that would inevitably harm you.
5. Finally, to top it all off, you would have to resort to manipulative processes (bluffs, lies, tricks, etc.) and deceive the other person in order to advance your case.
As for your role as negotiator :
6. You need to stick to the image that is expected of you. If you don't "scream", for example, you'll be accused of being soft, even though you're trying to avoid it at all costs.
7. You would have no choice but to adopt the same attitude as the other person. You would be cornered into doing whatever the other person did, no matter how much you disliked it. In other words, you would have no personal choice and no influence over the course of the negotiation.
8. The negotiation process and the conduct of the interview should be controlled unilaterally at all costs.

As for the other part :
9. His interests and yours would necessarily be in conflict and opposed. This would lead us to believe that there are no common or shared interests and would encourage us to ignore them.
10. If your interests are antagonistic, the other party could only be the adversary and the enemy. The negotiating table would thus be confused with a battlefield, and negotiation with duelling and combat.

To succeed in "interest-based negotiation", you first need to get rid of these preconceptions. From then on, the other party will be seen not as an adversary to be defeated but as a partner who holds half the solution. Negotiation is no longer conducted as a war, but as a problem to be solved together. Finally, the objective would no longer be to win a victory and beat the other party, but to seek a mutually beneficial solution.

Michel GHAZAL *
Founder of the European Negotiation Centre

* Introduced Harvard's "Interest-based Negotiation" to France in 1983. Since then, more than 70,000 professional negotiators from all business sectors and functions have followed its negotiation training courses.

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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