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Negotiating with oneself in order to better negotiate with the other

By Michel Ghazal

It is now accepted that the ability to negotiate is a key skill to be mastered in both professional and private life. It is no longer considered, as it was for a long time, to be the preserve of diplomats or specialists gifted and/or endowed with real or supposed skills. Over the last forty years, a great deal of research and literature has been devoted to the art of persuading and influencing others.
However, experience shows that however difficult, tough or even formidable the opposing party may be, the hardest obstacle to overcome is yourself. This is what William Ury tells us in his new book, which I was delighted to preface, Being in tune with yourself[1]to be published in French in September. Successfully applying the win-win approach to negotiation with your counterparts inevitably involves an initial negotiation with yourself. It often involves battling with that inner voice that urges us to behave in ways that are contrary to our interests.


What do you negotiate with yourself about?

Making a success of this internal negotiation involves 8 fundamental changes of attitude both before and during the negotiation with the other person:
- Change your view of negotiation.

Everyone needs to ask themselves questions and be clear about their perception of what negotiation is and what it is not. In order to move from a win-lose approach to a win-win one, we must first convince ourselves that negotiation is neither a fight nor a duel with the aim of defeating the other, but that it is a joint resolution of a problem. Understanding that it's a question of facing the problem side by side rather than face to face is the sine qua non for applying the full range of constructive negotiation tools.

- Moving towards a constructive goal

In any negotiation, everyone wants to get somewhere, and it's a good idea to think about it before getting there. Only then is it possible to map out the path to get there. It is not uncommon, however, for certain difficult situations to lead to the adoption of problematic objectives: wanting to crush the other person, to bleed them dry, to reap maximum benefits for oneself at the other person's expense... without taking into account what is fair. Aiming for these objectives can only lead to showdown-type negotiations, often with only losers. Whatever the resentment or desire for revenge, convincing yourself that it is better to move towards an objective such as seeking a mutually acceptable agreement will avoid wasting a lot of energy and time in costly and destructive battles of wills.
- Don't react instantly

Our emotions can be our worst enemy, because in situations of tension and stress, we can turn into a "reaction animal" and make the situation worse. In doing so, we give others a great deal of power over us: the power to make us react. It is therefore essential to "cool down" the machine, and that depends entirely on us. Because if we can't control the other person's behaviour, we can at least control our own. Acting on ourselves means being able to stand back and keep calm even when the urge is strong to shout, get angry, defend ourselves or attack. William Ury talks about "Climbing to the balcony. This is a metaphor for forcing ourselves to look at the situation as a director would direct his actors in a theatre, i.e. from a distance. By preventing the reptilian brain from taking control, not only do we stop acting as the other person's victim, but we also regain power over the situation and give ourselves a chance to turn it around in the direction we want. Well-formulated emotions are in fact one of the most powerful processes for persuading the other person.
- Avoid mirroring

Mimetic rivalry" leads us to act in mirror image and to do exactly what we criticise the other person for doing. This can only lead to disaster. With the "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a toothOne thing is certain: sooner or later, everyone will end up blind and toothless. So, even if the other person attacks us, we must avoid attacking them. Negotiating with ourselves means resisting the urge to attack the player and constantly striving to remain focused on the problem to be solved. Because it's the problem that needs to be overcome, not the other player.
- Don't just focus on your weak points

Research shows that we have more than sixty thousand thoughts a day and that eighty per cent of those are negative. We have too much of a tendency to criticise ourselves, to reproach ourselves for not measuring up or to think that we could have done better. As that wise old man so aptly put it: "If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, we'd have none left".. In negotiation, this translates into a tendency to focus on our weaknesses and shortcomings. Negotiating with ourselves means stopping putting ourselves down and instead forcing ourselves to look for our strengths, by remembering our successes and identifying our assets. This will increase our chances of getting what we want and satisfying our interests.
- Accept your share of the responsibility.

In negotiation, moments of tension are inevitable. They are conducive to a destructive game: "Whose fault is it?. This constantly pushes us to blame the other person. As a result, the other person becomes defensive and blames us in return. As a result, negotiations spiral out of control. However, in any situation, there is always a share of responsibility that falls to us and for which we at 100% are responsible. By accepting this from the outset, however small, not only do we show a sign of great psychological maturity, but the chance is increased that the other person will recognise and accept their own share of responsibility. We can then turn our energy towards finding solutions.
- Listening and trying to understand others

Even if the other person is not listening to us and shows no desire to understand us, rather than trying to shut them up and counter their arguments with counter-arguments, we are going to listen to them and try to understand them. To do this, we are going to rephrase his version in our mouths even better than he presented it himself. By convincing ourselves that we need to understand the other person before trying to make them understand us, we will certainly have a greater chance of getting them to listen to us in return. Because in negotiation, there is nothing more persuasive than being open to persuasion.
- Changing your attitude from hostile to respectful

Whatever the disagreements, nothing is possible without this fundamental premise: you have to show respect for the other person. This will make them more receptive. On the other hand, if you show them disrespect, it will show in your attitudes, words and gestures, and there will be a great risk of them closing up like an oyster or becoming aggressive. But it's true that in conflict situations, when we feel rejected by the other person or that our needs are being ignored, it's difficult to resist our protective instincts, which push us to reject in return and to counter-attack. However, by showing respect for others and concern for their dignity, we have a greater chance of arousing and receiving their respect in return. Remember, showing the utmost respect for others in no way means giving in to their needs or interests.


In conclusion

Negotiating these changes of attitude with ourselves will force us to stop feeding the infernal machine of escalation. If we are negotiating with the other person, it's because we are part of the problem. We want to be part of the solution. Negotiating with ourselves first is the surest way to put negotiating with others on the rails of a more cooperative and effective approach to "mutual gains strategy"[2].. This is because our opposite number will be more likely to share with us the conviction underlying this method that what is good for us is also good for them, and will therefore have a positive impact on our relationship. Whether in professional or private relationships, learning to negotiate and influence others is undoubtedly and increasingly an essential skill. But learning to negotiate with ourselves is just as important to our success.


[1]William Ury, Être en accord avec soi-même, Seuil, 2015
[2] Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton, Comment réussir une négociation, Seuil, Reed. 2006

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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