Can you tell the difference between negotiation and manipulation?
Many people manipulate others in order to achieve their goals but they tell themselves or others that they are negotiating. These people are convinced that this is an acceptable way to proceed and that otherwise they will be had. Some of them say they are listening to their needs and that others have only to do the same thing if they are not happy.
Let’s start by understanding the difference between the two. To negotiate is to discuss common ground for the purpose of coming to an agreement. Negotiation sets a conciliatory tone so that a compromise may be reached and each person may obtain a certain degree of satisfaction in various regards. In true negotiation, the parties do not feel ridiculed or coerced. They express their respective needs freely to build understanding and they feel respected.
To manipulate is to seek to control the other person by using fear or by making them feel guilty in order to convince them of something.
Let us take the example of sharing the household chores among the parents and the children (this example could apply equally well to couples, colleagues at work, or any other relationship). If a parent complains to the others that they are not helping enough – that is, tries to make them feel guilty – it’s manipulation. It’s also manipulation if a parent says nothing but acts like a victim, complaining that they have too much to do and hoping that in this way the others will offer of their own accord to do more, or if he or she makes a threat in order to get what they want. How many parents threaten their children that if they don’t clean up their room, they will deprive them of something?
Today’s kids are excellent negotiators. They will sometimes take advantage of their parents, but it is not their intent to manipulate. It is, rather, a means of finding out how much their parents respect each other and, consequently, whether they feel they can respect their parents. They like it if their parents make them respect their space, but not through accusations or by making them feel guilty or small.
In my example, good negotiation would consist of the four people sitting down together with the intention of establishing an agreement for maintaining a house that’s clean and pleasant to live in. It would be important for the parents to make a list of everything that needs to be done in the house each week before a meeting like this takes place. It is the attitude displayed by the parents that will allow the children to see from the outset whether the parents respect each other and them. This attitude must show that their great wish is to reach an agreement that will meet the needs of all four members of the family. It is important that each one recognize that all of them contribute to making the house dirty and that it is only fair that everyone help keep it clean.
Each one should feel they have the right to speak, that they can get their point of view across without the others making offensive comments. This implies that each can take their turn to speak about their needs, their schedule, their abilities and how they think they can contribute to the chores.
It is recommended that, once an agreement is concluded, there should be some discussion on how to deal with commitments not met. I suggest letting the children decide the consequences because they are often more fair-minded in this regard. Children – even at a very young age – love to take part in family decisions. It makes them feel important. I would remind you that children today consider themselves as human beings who are equal with everyone else.
This kind of negotiation takes practice. It is very likely that a family will encounter conflict the first time they decide to try such negotiation (which could be dealing with any of several other subjects, not just the one given in the example). So there needs to be one person in the group who is responsible for reminding everyone that the purpose of the meeting is to encourage respect for each person’s opinion.
As far as manipulation is concerned, it is very common in all relationships. If you want to become aware of it, you can ask those around you to let you know when you are manipulating. On the other hand, don’t feel guilty, because the more you feel guilty, the more you will repeat your behaviour. You can ask them for example to say to you, “Was that manipulation that I just heard or did you want to negotiate something with me?” When there is no guilt feeling, one can laugh about it and admit it more easily if there was indeed manipulation.
With manipulation, there is a winner and a loser. On the other hand some people are so skilled at imposing their needs that they succeed in manipulating without their being a loser. Let us suppose a woman absolutely wants to go and see a movie just with her husband. She knows he is often tired and doesn’t like to go out on weeknights, so she explains to him how much good it would do him to go and see it, that she is sure he will like it and promises him something that she knows will please him. All these actions are manipulative. That said, if her husband ends up accepting and tells her after the movie that he is glad he agreed to go, there is no loser.
However, if you are the type who is able to convince others to listen to your needs, you should know that this kind of manipulation is only acceptable on the condition that you are prepared to accept a refusal. That way, the other person will feel they have the right to say no and no one will get upset, which would be a sign of disrespect.
Practise negotiation as often as possible because it is an excellent way to improve relations. It is better than suffering in silence, because the day will come when you explode from having repressed too many emotions. Negotiation will help you to be frank with others and accept their frankness, whether it be in your personal or professional life.