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Negotiation, the art of living with others

Interview with Michel Ghazal by Violaine GellyRevue Psychologie

Negotiating isn't just about sitting around a table to discuss a problem. It means trying, every day, to reach agreements with those around you," explains Michel Ghazal.

Michel Ghazal holds a doctorate in management and trained at Harvard. He founded the European Negotiation Centre, which works with companies.

Psychologies: What is the point of knowing how to negotiate "well"?

Michel Ghazal: Negotiation is the basic rule of human relations. As soon as two people are in the same room, disagreements, disputes or differences emerge. With our spouse when we talk about holidays. With our children who refuse to go to bed. With our neighbour whose dog won't stop barking. Conflict is not something to be systematically avoided; it is a sign of life and health and allows differences to express themselves. As it is not possible to change husbands or resign every time a problem arises, negotiation is a civilised way of managing these situations. It is the sign of a living relationship, an absolute necessity for living in society.

Do we need to know each other well?
This avoids two pitfalls: accusing the other person of all the wrongs, remaining accusatory and putting them off; or, on the other hand, giving in to them. Some people are so desperate to be loved that they seek agreement at all costs, to the detriment of their own interests. Simply saying "I'd love to go out for dinner with you, but I'm too tired tonight" seems insurmountable to them. They need to learn what they want and how to express it.

You say "neither give in nor attack". So what do you do? Compromise?
Compromise is the classic solution of splitting the difference. "You want to go to the mountains, I want to go to the sea, we'll do a week here and a week there. It's easy, it's quick and you feel you've solved the problem. Except that neither party is satisfied. In a negotiation, you are faced with a problem to be solved on the basis of interests that you believe to be divergent. But most of the time, it's not the interests that are divergent, but the positions you take to defend them. So rather than aggression, submission and compromise, find the underlying needs and work out a new solution with the other person. Be creative. Involve them without making decisions for them. This is a sign of consideration: the other person is always a respectable interlocutor.

An aggressive teenager, an unfair boss, a violent husband: other people are not always respectable...
To give in to injustice or violence is to encourage it. To respond in kind is to provoke escalation. A good negotiator must step aside because it is impossible to talk to someone who is in too strong an emotional state. A good negotiator is someone who knows how to give time to time: "Look, I'm tired tonight, let's talk about it tomorrow". Or talk about their deepest feelings: "I feel attacked by what you're saying. But be careful not to confuse the emotion with the expression of that emotion. The important thing is to express your feelings, not to shout or cry. Anything excessive is likely to annoy the other person or engender the same attitude. If you shout, there's a good chance they'll shout back.

Do you negotiate the same way with your children as you do with your boss?
The rules of effective negotiation apply to all conflict situations, from marital irritation to hostage-taking. You need to be able to balance reason and emotion. There are interests at stake and negotiation allows you to find a solution to the problem. Whatever it may be. It's very important to negotiate with your child: if you give in to the slightest demand, you show yourself incapable of asserting your interests and desires. How will your child be able to understand that others have different interests from his own and that he must respect them? And if you don't let your child defend his needs in a conflict with you, how will he know how to express them with others?
When should you stop negotiating?
While everything can be negotiated, not everything is negotiable. As soon as my fundamental interests and priority needs are called into question, it's non-negotiable. Moreover, a good negotiator always prepares for this eventuality by having an alternative solution. If this woman can't get her abusive husband to listen to reason, if this boss practices moral harassment, the alternative solution is to break off the relationship: leave her husband, change jobs. But sometimes people benefit negatively from what makes them suffer: that's why it's important to get to know each other so that you can negotiate properly with the other person.

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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