Reframing negociation

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Here is the definition of Negociation:

Negotiation is a dialogue between two or more people or parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome over one or more issues where a conflict exists with respect to at least one of these issues. This beneficial outcome can be for all of the parties involved, or just for one or some of them.

At Laval University, in Quebec, at the moment there is a Strike of many Union employees. Obviously, as with most situations of strike, this has negative effects on some third parties, including the students and, or so I have heard, many random citizens who had to deal with extra traffic on some highways because of it. Usually, on social media, whenever someone criticizes the people on strike, they get an answer mentioning how it is actually the University’s fault, for refusing to negociate with them, making the strike longer.

I won’t go into details about what exactly they are asking, because that’s not the point of this post. We just need to know that they are asking for several things, and the University won’t give them any of them­. This situation seems to have led them to honestly believe that the University is in the wrong.

But I think this relies on a dubious premise.

It is that the University has not negociated. As we can clearly see from the definition, negociating is a dialogue between two or more parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome for at least one of them. This literally means that the following exchange counts as negociation:

Union: Give us stuff.
University: No.

Since the outcome would then be only favorable to the University. The actual act of “asking them to negociate” and the following “refusal” counts as negociation, so the University has indeed negociated with them. I think some people are confusing “negociating” with “sitting down at a table to discuss which of our demands you are going to accept”. In reality, this situation, where there are a number of demands being made, has many ways to be resolved, including accepting all the demands, accepting any combination of demands, and refusing all the demands. All of these cases count as negociating.

This seems to me like efficient persuasion, whether it is done on purpose or not, and whether it is justified or not. I have never seen anyone arguing with them actually mention this reframing they have done, which tells me that they have succeeded in reframing “negociating” in the eyes of the public in order to remove completely the “refuse all demands” outcome from the definition of the word. Since “Negociation” has a positive connotation in our minds, by removing the outcome that is currently on display from that definition, they have reframed the University as “the bad guys who won’t negociate” in our minds, and therefore made themselves look like the heroes fighting those bad guys.

This looks like very good persuasion to me.

Keep in mind that I’m not saying the Union is wrong or that the University is wrong. I’m just saying that, in the fight to win the public support, the Union has been a lot more successful with that reframing strategy. Maybe the University are complete dicks for refusing all of the Union’s demands. Maybe the Union are manipulating bastards trying to make us accept their totally unreasonable demands. Maybe both sides have their rights and their wrongs. I’m just saying that right now, just because the outcome of the negociation is not enough in the eyes of the union, they have successfully excluded this outcome from the definition in our minds. That’s a perfectly valid strategy, even if it is debatable whether it is justified or not. After all, if the cause is noble, there’s nothing wrong with persuading others to be on your side, right?

Also, if you still don’t think that flat out refusing every demands counts as negociation, try the reverse the situation. If the union came with their demands, and the University said “Yes” to every single one of them instantly, would it count as negociating? I think it would, but in that case the outcome would simply be beneficial to the Union instead.