An Unusual Proposal for Syriza’s Lead Negotiators

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This article is a call to action. Action to release the real negotiation blocks.

In early 2015, Syriza’s Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, brought to the table a vision bigger than himself and Greece. He questioned the structural viability of the existing European Union (EU) base, touching issues that go well beyond the newest Greek crisis and austerity measures. In proposing his idea, it would have served him better to ensure that Troika leaders could hear him.

Why should Troika believe the Greeks when so much EU money has been misused in the past? How could Troika trust the Greeks when they are judged as lazy, corrupt and undisciplined? How might Troika imagine that Syriza can create positive change, at a time when Troika leaders, themselves, are uncertain about their own personal certainty and institutional viability?

To transform today’s tit-for-tat discussions to real negotiations, the current Greek negotiators, namely the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, must create trust. How? By removing the real blocks to progress. Which are they? Unexamined assumptions, emotions and judgements. How can useful discussions take place without checking the negotiators’ state of being?

For simplicity’s sake, we will explore the easiest of the two blocks in this article: emotions and judgements.

Emotions provide information about experiences and decisions. Without expressing emotions, they intensify over time and emerge at the most inopportune time, providing “proof” that they are unreliable and better left repressed. Needless to say, most people fail at containing their feelings, proving that emotions remain the most influential human capacity that informs every thought and behavior. The key to emotions’ power lies in their expression, which liberates information as well as the energy and creativity essential for intelligent problem solving and effective negotiations.

Emotions are blocking the Syriza-Troika negotiations. As these talks are in the foreground of destabilized political, economic and social structures, uncertainty is created at profoundly deep personal and collective levels, fueling fear and reactive behavior. In most cases, when uncertainty is brought to awareness too quickly for one’s emotional capacity, he reacts by further committing to what he already knows without a willingness to change. Why should we be surprised when Troika leaders repeat their demands for debt repayment regardless of Syriza’s proposals? Why would we be surprised when Syriza negotiators continue to reject Troika proposals without an ability to influence? This is the process of stalemate.

The other block to the Syriza-Troika negotiations includes judgements. Judgements are conclusions made in the past, used in the present. Blame is a code behavior: notice, for example, how Greeks blame Germans for abuse during WWII and Germans blame Greeks for past manipulation, lies and ineptitude. These points may be valid, but they reflect different times and different leaders. Yet, the emotions of those thoughts are alive and well in today’s negotiations. They inadvertently agitate from below and surface under stress, signaling the need to release emotions and shift to judgement-free awareness.

How can leaders, knee-deep in pressure and stalemate, overcome emotional and judgement blocks in their negotiations?

With a tool that is both deceptively simple and surprisingly potent: Beyond EQ. It is a model that activates specific parts of the brain, in a specific order, to tune into various perspectives that focus the mind, in alignment with emotions. It opens up tense situations and invites leaders into a very straightforward conversation that acknowledges emotions, then dives into fears to absorb useful information and release their intensity, then moves into inspiration and action. No need to judge this as elementary; it proves powerful across contexts:

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Setting up for successful outcomes, the following points are useful: (1) the facilitator must have a large emotional capacity to be able to work with intense frustration, anger, fear and resentment. Without such a capacity, the facilitator may become overwhelmed, leading her to rush interactions, judge responses and inadvertently undermine the process. In reaction, participants may feel emotionally “too open” or vulnerable and revert back to even more deeply-entrenched judgements and fears. A wise knowing that all thoughts, feelings and behavior seek to fill basic human needs, allows the acceptance of everyone’s truth and respectfully guides the group toward a common ideal outcome. (2) Allow time, especially with the first two steps, as this is where pent-up emotions and judgements are released. The facilitator can expect that the intensity crescendos and then releases into relief. (3) For the last three steps, the facilitator can enrich the process by inviting group participants to consider their challenges from two perspectives: the street and Acropolis levels. From the street level, leaders see what is shown and hear what is said. Many a street fight occur at this level, leading to bloodshed and win-lose outcomes. From the Acropolis level, leaders access strategic, big-picture, symbolic perspectives that enhance their understanding and clarity. At this level, leaders question what people are telling them, looking beyond emotional reactivity to decode what people need. Common results from the Acropolis vista include respectful relationships and intentional, win-win outcomes.

To explore a case study, we can imagine that Syriza’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, is leading an exploration with his German/Troika counterparts in a meeting. For the sake of brevity, we shall examine a dual-party discussion, although a multi-stakeholder inquiry is equally effective.

Tsipras asks the Germans — what do you see as the problem? The Germans might say, “Greeks are lazy, untrustworthy, undisciplined and want to get out of the agreements made by past governments. They offer proposals that have nothing to do with the immediate issue at hand. Geeks must accept the austerity measures.” Tsipras asks his team the same question and they might say, “We do not believe that we can ever escape debt through their agreements. A Grexit frees us and will undermine Europe, showing that we are not powerless. We can no longer accept austerity measures.” The more emotions and judgments that can be brought out during this step, the better.

Tsipras asks the Germans — what is the worst that can happen? This question usually opens up Pandora’s box, unleashing myriad fears such as unfairness that Germans must bail out others without being repaid, to fears of EU collapse, to fears of Spain’s possible bankruptcy, to fears of revolution against austerity measures, and the list goes on. Tsipras then asks his team the same question and they share their own worst nightmares of being humiliated “slaves” to Germans, to falling back into WWII-level poverty and the like. Listing their fears allows everyone to see on paper (or whiteboard) what feels enormous in the mind, yet distant when documented. This part of the process respects emotional expression, reduces intensity and releases restrained energy. Everyone starts to feel better.

Tsipras asks the Germans and his team — what is the ideal outcome? Feeling better from sharing their fears in an honest way, the Germans and Greeks shift attention to their individual and collective ultimate goals. If Tsipras is skilled in this step, he will be able to move from top-of-mind to deep-level points that reflect personal and country-level values — what people really want when all their fears are assuaged. This is where enormous value-add is elicited, which informs each person’s sense of control, contribution and a feeling of being inspired by a bigger vision. As people feel lighter, having acknowledged that their worst fears are unlikely to occur and their feelings of hope have seamlessly resurfaced, they move fully (emotionally) into the energy of inspiration. At the same time, inconsistencies between “party lines” and ideal scenarios surface during this time, making it easy to identify and correct any mismatches between current tactics and intended strategy.

The last and most decisive part of this process is when Tsipras asks everyone how they can achieve the collective goals together. When one party feels they are “on their own to deal with their needs,” they tend to feel isolated and frequently move back into fear, taking action from that state of being. When hope is experienced through the release of fears and the vision of ideal targets, everything becomes possible. Working together then creates the glue that keeps people set in inspiration, moving from surface-level changes to systemic-level transformation essential in the Greece-Europe challenges in-progress today.

For cynics, this proposal may sound like a Hollywood-esque picture with a happy ending. Such a judgement can block the model’s use at the expense of its countless benefits.

Some readers may be unwilling or unable to accept that change can happen quickly, and that a simple process unravels decades of deep-set fear, frustration and loss of hope. Such readers may react by criticizing the model to avoid opening up their hearts to possible disappointment. All is ok. The model will still be here when those readers are ready to dare to hope again.

Other readers, upon using the model and experiencing positive results, may feel angry that they have spent so many years in frustration and stymied progress. As a summary, it is important to remember to express emotions and respond with judgement-free awareness to stay in the present moment… where all things are possible.

Further, curious readers will experiment with this model to find windows where there were stone walls and cautious, yet tenacious optimism where there was conflict. Through such success, these readers may model new behavior that spreads through social contagion, creating new ripples of hope, resilience, creative proposals and peace.

 

 

[Image from Freepik]