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Please Shut up and Listen: Today's Bloody Revolutions Teach Negotiation Lessons

posted 25 Feb 2011, 06:46 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 25 Feb 2011, 06:48 ]

Feb. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The overwhelming live TV from Cairo with its confrontation and sometimes frightening violence hid a more subtle negotiation process going on via the media. Those who negotiate for high stakes and with high profiles need to learn negotiation lessons these big events do provide.

Lurking behind the dramatic events in the street are the claims of power and demands that are actually normal across a bargaining table. However, here the parties themselves may not even notice these processes, to their detriment.

The Mubarak administration bargained on the public stage for its life with the nascent democratic movement. "Because they were de facto negotiating but did not listen to each other, it may have doomed the pro-democracy side, or may yet lead to an Islamist state in Egypt. There are lessons to be learned," so says Columbia, MD attorney and negotiation expert Phil Marcus.

"Instead of trumpeting your own demands incessantly, stop talking and listen to what the other side is saying, and even proposing. Mubarak said he wanted to stay on until the September election, but in passing he made clear why. He wanted to die on Egyptian soil. He said so in an interview on 1 Feb., that was widely reported." (Kaddafi said something similar on 22 Feb.)

Mr. Marcus added that while for many the past 15 or 20 years have been of awful deprivation, in Mubarak's own mind he was a great savior of Egypt after the Sadat assassination by preventing chaos.

"The anti-Mubarak forces demanded he leave the country. There was no chance he was going to do that. He would rather have died in a presidential palace, stoned to death. But Egypt is large. There is a nice seaside town, Sharm el-Sheikh, to which he could have been allowed to retire with dignity, go swimming or boating and write a memoir." Marcus said he believes the protesters should have listened to Mubarak near the beginning and begun a dialog about trading his staying in Egypt for satisfying their demands. "It would have saved probably a week or more of stress, economic disruption, violence and hundreds of deaths." Mubarak did not abdicate until the 11th.

Lesson two, Mr. Marcus said, is more nuanced. People involved in the high-adrenaline events in Egyptand elsewhere are mostly in no condition to do accurately the subtle risk/reward calculations needed to come to agreement and recapture the "dogs of war." This is a commonplace supported by solid biology. Mr. Marcus concluded that, "The brilliance of people like Gandhi, Martin King and others is their ability to remain calm and to listen to their opponents."

Philip L. Marcus, J.D., is a Columbia, MD attorney and negotiation expert with graduate studies in biophysics at MIT and Johns Hopkins University, who is author of Zen and the Art of Negotiation: Successful Negotiation for People Who Hate to Negotiate, available online and from local bookstores.

More info: Philip L. Marcus 
Columbia, MD 21046 

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SOURCE Philip L. Marcus