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Medieval knights have a hard arm wrestling match

Social negotiations: beware of the three false leads!

By Philippe Etienne

To all those interested in social negotiations, in the conflicts that can arise during the "social spring" announcedIf you're interested in what's going on in Australia between the government, the media and the 'Big Tech', aka GAFAM in French, and primarily Google and Facebook, we can advise you to take a look at what has just happened. It's not social, but it's a hell of a negotiation. And since in France our social partners are quite good negotiators, there are many similarities!

When GAFAMs play dinosaurs

There are some useful ingredients in this story to point out the unfortunate 'false solutions', cognitive biases and other limiting beliefs that are found in social negotiations.

It also allows us to say that the French champions of social negotiation are not so specific and that the kings of digital are not much better. Those who make people dream of unicorns sometimes behave like dinosaurs!

In a few words, the Australian story is this: the Australian media (starting with the legendary Rupert Murdoch) are waging war on Google and Facebook to get paid for the use of their content. Very classic. A bill emerges to support the media. The arm wrestling intensifies, the balance of power becomes a test of strength. Google threatens to pull out of Australia, then finally changes its mind. After all, what it has done in Europe with "neighbouring rightsHe can do it again in Australia.

Facebook decided to block the sharing of links to news sites. Collateral damage: it also blocks the weather and service information and all information on the pandemic. Obviously, the tone rises further. Five days later, the Australian government amended its bill and negotiations with Facebook could resume. They have just reached an agreement.

What can trade unionists, MEDEF representatives, company directors and staff representatives learn from this story?

There are at least three ideas that should be avoided if employee representatives and management want to avoid too much drama: playing the negotiation game as a power struggle will only make the situation worse; manipulating people will break trust; and aiming for compromise alone will only lead to results that are too lukewarm for everyone.

1-First false lead: play the negotiation as a power struggle.

Arm wrestling is not about scoring points.

At the start of any negotiation, there is a need for the other. Otherwise, no one would come.

To need the other is to say that any negotiation will have to create value for those it concerns. If we need someone else, it is stupid to want to beat them up.

Behind the use of power relations is the belief that in any negotiation there can only be one winner and one loser. The political and trade union leaders who promote this belief see any negotiation as a simple cake to be shared, with everyone fighting for the smallest crumb.

In a social negotiation, the boss needs the employee. And the employee needs the boss. If we think in terms of a strict balance of power, the relationship will appear unequal. In a programme devoted to the subject on Arte several years ago, Laurent Berger said no different to Raphaël Enthoven. But if we think in terms of added value, it is only together that these two will be able to create value, both for themselves and for the group.

In the Australian case, all the protagonists need each other. The interests are different and even divergent, but the common interests are many. Creating value is about enlarging the pie, not cutting it into the most equal parts possible. It is imagination that negotiators need, not strong arms and threats. Any pressure on one person leads to further pressure from the other. Pressure on the other side will only strengthen and amplify the balance of power and turn it into a showdown. Arm wrestle with your colleagues to see.

2- Second false lead: playing it smart

The smart ones try to play it smart. So they put up smoke screens, they take you for a ride, they lead you on a wild goose chase, they make you think they want this or that when in fact they want something else that they will try to get back without your knowledge. In short, they manipulate. You'll be fooled once, but not twice...

It should be noted that the manipulator is also convinced, because he is very intelligent, that he has the power to bypass you. This only works if the potential 'manipulated' gives him this power. One day, a rather 'persistent' trade union representative came to see the HR manager after a particularly tense meeting. He said with a smile: "I'm going to keep you awake with my questions". The HR manager's response was remarkable. He just smiled and said, "Come on, come on, you don't have that power. All of this goes nowhere, of course, and will have an impact on the reputation and ethics of the manipulative negotiator.

3- Third fallacy: finding the middle ground

The most pacific minds among the classical negotiators aim at finding a compromise, qualified as acceptable of course in order to avoid it being lame. This is enviable. The field of possibilities is considerable: I remember a recruitment interview where a recruiter, to make up for a meagre salary, claimed, by way of compensation, that his box of cigars was 'always open' (true!).

The problem of compromise is that it is based on a concessive logic. Instead of enlarging the cake, I am cutting it. By wanting to find the middle ground at all costs, the negotiator also runs the risk of staying on the surface of the problem to be resolved. He negotiates on the positions of each party. He does not discover the motivations, the reasons for these positions. And of course, he does not talk about his own. As a result, at the end of the negotiation, the parties involved have come to a conclusion that does not delight many people, and everyone imagines what the other is thinking. But if mind-reading is leading the world, we are off to a bad start...

It is possible to to get our social negotiations out of the pitfalls of classical negotiation. This sometimes requires us to revise deeply held beliefs and to resist some of our best-conditioned reflexes.

How many will dare?

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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