To Negotiate With Nasrallah, You Need to Know How His Mind Works

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: Everything in life is a negotiation, according to an expert ■ An aspiring social worker explains how she won over troubled soldiers

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Michael Tsur.
Michael Tsur.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Michael Tsur, 55, lives in Mevasseret Zion; arriving from Beijing

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in China?

I’m a negotiation specialist by profession – I prepare people and organizations for negotiating processes – and I was asked to give a talk on the subject at a conference of the Israel Chamber of Commerce in China.

Does something special happen if negotiations are held between Israelis and the Chinese?

In negotiations we examine whether there is a convergence of wills, or of needs, in the case of the Chinese (laughs). There are global methodologies that always work.

Give an example.

One rule is that whoever controls the method, controls the content, and whoever controls the process, will control the result. That’s true of everything. You dictated that we would sit and I “gave in” to sitting and also to the interview. The moment I give in, I have very little control over the result.

Still, you chose to surrender.

I read this column, so from my point of view, there’s a precedent. I believe it will be all right. It starts and ends with trust.

Thanks, but what happens when there isn’t any?

It’s possible to work at building trust, or simply to put it on the table and say, “I find it hard to believe you” – but without accusing the other of being a liar.

And if he is a liar?

Sometimes a bad ending is preferable to bad without an ending.

Or a court case.

Today, if a lawyer says, “Let’s take it to court,” you should get a new lawyer.

Let me guess – you’re originally a lawyer.

Yes, but I always knew I wouldn’t practice law. The practice of law is a profession that weakens people. The lawyer tells you, “You need protection.” I believe that if you give people the tools, strengthen them, and say, “You can do it” – they will live peacefully with the result and also won’t feel that someone has messed them up. That’s part of my job.

Can you learn how to be an expert in negotiation?

I’ve been arguing for 20 years about this with the academic world. Seven years ago, I opened a school called Shakla Vetarya [Aramaic for “give and take”]. The courses acquaint people with 70 different methodologies.

Are your students mostly involved in business?

Not at all. I make sure there is a broad spectrum of participants – diversity is important. The only thing they have in common is that most of them are age 40 and above. It’s a profession for people who’ve already coped with challenges. And with all due respect to methodologies, one learns more from the group meetings. I come from the practical world, and in negotiation there is no such thing as “theoretically, she agreed to marry me.”

Even so, negotiation sounds like married life.

Everything in life is negotiation – the “good morning,” the kiss I give my partner in the morning. As long as we need to breathe and eat, we also need to talk. I teach people to talk the difficulty. To say, “You worried me, it was unpleasant for me” – not to play the macho.

What about people looking for a way to kick ass?

You have to understand that every expression embodying force is a sign of weakness. So I’m not a big fan of manipulation – not because it’s not fun, but because you can only do it once. Every negotiation is actually about the next deal; the important thing is what happens the next day. That’s the fifth rule for conducting negotiations.

What are the four previous ones?

1. Make no assumptions; 2. The goal is always constructive communication, even if the answer is negative; 3. Negotiation takes place in the mind of your partner. In other words, until you understand how [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah’s mind works, you won’t know what to do; 4. Whoever controls the process, controls the result.

And if we’re dealing with Nasrallah?

It doesn’t matter how dangerous I am perceived to be in your eyes. First of all make your request nicely, in a way that respects the addressee. For example, at [West Bank] border crossings I’ve been imploring soldiers for years not to say, in Arabic, “Hand over your ID card.” Why not say, “Give me your ID card, please”?

Would that approach at least move us toward peace negotiations?

I want to say that under the right leadership, it would take half a year, and we would have coexistence here. I won’t say peace, because that’s a terribly dangerous word, almost like love.

Shahar Bat Shlomo and Yuval Gomme.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Shahar Bat Shlomo, 22, from Ramat Gan, and Yuval Gomme, 22, from Be’er Sheva; Shahar is flying to Hanoi

Hello, can I ask if you’re siblings?

Together: Twins!

So why don’t you have the same surname?

Yuval: Whenever I said my name was Yuval Bat Shlomo [Yuval, daughter of Shlomo], everyone split a gut laughing. I changed it.

So, who’s flying and where to?

Shahar: I will be traveling in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Indonesia.

Post-army trip?

Shahar: Yes. I put if off because my boyfriend was a combat officer and he was wounded and had to undergo surgery. In the end, after a lot of agonizing, I decided to go.


Shahar: Yes. To see whatever places I want, to eat whatever I want – without thinking about anyone else and without dealing with anyone except myself.

Do you have plans for after the trip?

Shahar: To come back to Israel and study social work.

As opposed to the “me, me, me” you’re planning for your trip.

Yuval: You’ll understand everything when she tells you what she did in the army.

What did you do?

Shahar: I worked in army prison as an evaluator in the Gahelet program: I interviewed inmates and offered them conditions that would help them complete their army service properly, if possible.

Yuval: More accurately, she’d sit with someone for four hours and he’d tell her the most awful story about his life, and she would take it all in.

What would happen in those conversations?

Shahar: I would conduct a structured interview. In the course we took beforehand, there’s a 20-page notebook with all the questions you have to ask and need to memorize precisely.

Why so many?

Shahar: There is a lot of repetition of questions in an interview – for consistency, to see that the story is “holistic,” complete.

Did they try to lie?

Shahar: They would come into the interview with all kinds of strange ideas, like: “If she offers me water and I drink from the bottle, I bet I won’t get out of the army.” Or they would say, “We’ll pull a fast one on her.” But then I would ask, “What happened to you when you were 5?” Or “What was your homeroom teacher like in first grade?” That, they absolutely weren’t ready for. They were moved by it.

Were they willing to answer such personal questions?

Shahar: They had a vested interest in coming to the interviews, because I could help with furloughs or with more convenient conditions. But I had to find out for certain what the situation really was, because if we assume that the guy’s father is not in the picture and the mother is sick, you have to give that soldier an army job that allows him to live at home. But if he actually has a mother who’s abusing him, obviously that won’t help. Or if there’s a soldier who has “gray market” debts, because of his army service he can’t work and cover them, and that’s why he went AWOL – I could recommend an exemption, so the army would not be another link in the chain of his failures. It’s better for him to be discharged and save himself.

Were there scary times?

Shahar: There were some huge guys who looked as though they could really wallop you, but they were amazing people, and I connected with them. They called me Snow White.

Suits you.

Shahar: It’s the first time anyone had ever asked them about their lives. Think of a man, a macho, who couldn’t tell anyone that he wets his bed, that his father chokes his mother.

It’s hard to function in any sort of framework, in that situation.

Shahar: There are a great many people who shouldn’t have been drafted – the army doesn’t have the tools to deal with them.

Yuval: I always say that Shahar served in the “sensitive warfare division.”

Shahar: It’s important to say that Gahelet is a women’s unit, a feminine force.

Hats off to you, maybe even to the Israel Defense Forces.

Shahar: I went to Thelma Yellin High School, an arts school where it’s all individualism, “discover yourself,” and suddenly I found a different world, a world that’s more about being together, a world where I have my place.

I don’t understand – why did you use the phrase “being together”?

Shahar: Being together is the meaning of life, in my opinion – it’s all about when you help others and see how it’s possible to do good in the world.

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