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Why do we need to avoid hasty judgements?

By Michel Ghazal

A little girl is holding an apple in each hand when her mum comes into the room. With a big smile, her mum says to her gently: my darling, would you give mummy one of your two apples? The girl looked at her mother for a few seconds, then suddenly took a bite of the first apple and swallowed it quickly. Mum's smile froze on her face. As soon as the daughter had finished, she took a bite of the second apple. The mother found it harder and harder to hide her disappointment. Then the little girl held out one of the two apples to her mum, saying: "Look, Mum, this is the best one.

This anecdote reveals one of the major obstacles to successful negotiated conflict management: hasty judgements. Disputes and arguments are not based on objective realities. Quite often, what is at issue are the differing thoughts of the parties involved. These thoughts are determined by their perceptions of the situation, which lead them to a certain vision of reality.

But, as this anecdote shows, our perceptions are inevitably biased and partisan and do not always reflect THE truth. Note the difference between the little girl's intention and the mother's plausible interpretation of it. More generally, people only see what they want to see. From the information available to them, they will retain that which confirms their first impressions and ignore that which would force them to question them. Five witnesses to a car accident will tell such different stories that investigators may sometimes wonder whether they witnessed the same event.

How can we overcome this obstacle?

Even if it is a talent that is not given to everyone, overcoming this obstacle requires the ability to defer judgement and at the same time seek to understand the vision and perception of the other. To achieve this, the effective negotiator will endeavour to follow 5 steps:
- Suspending judgement
The more certain we are of our facts, the more the matter will seem to us to be settled, and the more difficult it will be for us to accept temporarily putting our judgement on hold and deferring it. To achieve this, we need to negotiate with that inner voice that keeps telling us that we are right and the other person is wrong, so there is nothing to learn.
- Putting yourself in the other person's shoes
How can we change someone's vision if we don't know what it's based on? Putting yourself in the other person's shoes goes beyond trying to listen. It's about becoming "the other person" so that you can really and truly immerse yourself in their way of working, without judgement. This is the sine qua non for exerting any influence on them.
- Adopt an investigative attitude
Rather than being blinded by our certainties, let ourselves be guided by our curiosity. The first step is to explore and discover the vision, perception and intention behind our attitude and behaviour. To achieve this, adopt the attitude of the investigator who is always open to learning before reaching a conclusion. The simplest way is to ask questions and wait for the answer. This can take the form of: "Help me to understand, can you explain to me what the reasons are...".
- Expressing understanding
The next step is to recognise the vision and perception of the person you are talking to. To demonstrate this recognition, you need to rephrase in your own words what you have heard even better than they have. It is by showing this listening and understanding that you will have a chance of being listened to and understood in turn. Remember, understanding the other person does not mean agreeing or subscribing, even if this may lead you to revise your point of view.
- Co-inventing a solution
As soon as the different perceptions have been expressed and acknowledged, this brings about a change in the minds of the parties involved. From then on, one or more possible solutions emerge that will enable the dispute to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. This is the magic of effective negotiation.

In conclusion


Whoever we are, however experienced we may be, and however well-informed we may think we are, let's avoid hasty judgements and let ourselves be guided by the desire to learn. Let's not confuse the other person's intention with the impact that their behaviour has had on us, and let's accept, as this drawing so aptly shows, that every perception contains its share of truth. Not only will we reap pleasant surprises in terms of solutions but, what's more, our relationships will emerge strengthened with a greater capacity to manage inevitable disagreements in the future.

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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