Native-born Israelis, colloquially known as sabras, are known as much for their prickly outsides as their soft inner core. Those known as Anglos have a hard time adapting to the straight talking and at times argumentative approach of Israelis, finding it rude and combative. The approach of Israelis is direct and unapologetic, which perhaps accounts for their thick skinned reputation. Abba Eban had this to say about the Sabra Israeli:
“In principle, I cannot find differences between Israelis and others. The Sabra construct, which is prickly from the outside and sweet from within, is only a myth. There is no peculiarity of the Israeli person besides the fact that he is boldly straightforward, sometimes showing courage, able to unite in times of predicament, and has the capability for entrepreneurship” ("Maariv" weekend supplement, January 5, 1996).
In negotiation, Israelis play hardball and are clear about their objectives. Bargaining is part of the game and they go in high and aggressive. This translates from the shuk seller selling apples, to the board room of the biggest companies. The discussions are heated and you have to be assertive to deliver your case. In my first Israeli negotiation I was waiting for my “opponent” to finish his sentence before I delivered mine. As you can imagine, I waited quite some time before I realized that I would have to interrupt him if I wanted to speak.
There are many myths about mediation, one of which is that mediation is only for people who are "low conflict" individuals, people who are easily willing to compromise, and that litigation is for those unwilling to back down at all from their position. In some instances this can be true. There are some people who can only agree when they are forced to by a judge or arbitrator. However, in most cases, even the hardest negotiators can come to an agreement in mediation. In many instances the propelling force to settle in mediation will be the BATNA (the best alternative to a negotiated solution) which is a return to the court litigation system, which is unpredictable and costly.
One key aspect of the Israeli mentality is that you should not be the “freier”. “Freier” in Israeli slang means to be a mug, the person people take advantage of. The idea of not being a freier goes deep into the Israeli psyche, from not letting out the car in front of you in traffic to not agreeing to a deal because your opponent will gain from it. This can lead to Israelis being suspicious of accepting an agreement which would benefit the other party, even when the benefits to them are worthwhile. It is important in any mediation for the mediator to stress to the parties that any agreement on their side has to be in their own interests, and to look at their own interest independent of what the other side gains. This holds especially true for Israelis.
In his book Start up Nation, Dan Senor wrote, “Doubt and argument-this is a syndrome of the Jewish civilization and this is a syndrome of today’s Israel.” Despite their army education Israelis are known for their questioning stance and not simply accepting being told what to do; they are by nature very independent souls. This makes mediation particularly suitable for this country, as a key aspect of mediation is that it is empowering to the parties. Decisions are made only with the understanding of the rationale behind them. The participants themselves decide on an agreement; it is not imposed on them by a third party.
Mediation is becoming much more common around the world because of its many benefits. Israel is moving in this direction in part because of the long delays in the courts, meaning cases can take years from start to finish. The justice system in Israel has been promoting mediation for some time, from commercial cases which are often sent by the judge to mediation, to the family courts where a new law makes it mandatory for couple to consider mediation before litigation.
Companies in Israel are also starting to follow the policy of large companies from around the world to use alternative dispute resolution methods in the workplace. (One study by CPR in 2013 found that almost 50% of large US corporations are now using alternative dispute resolution as their main vehicle for resolving workplace disputes.) In a market which relies on the expertise of employees, and given the ease with which people change jobs, employers need to create a happy work environment to retain their staff. Israeli employers are recognising the value of a satisfied and creative workforce, which means addressing conflicts in the workplace in an effective way.
Despite their reputation for not backing down and hardball negotiating tactics, Israelis' propensity for directness and practical outlook is an advantage in mediation. It is apparent that in recent years Israelis have been moving to use alternative dispute resolution practices in the business sphere. While it is clear that Israelis can certainly argue, and can definitely negotiate, the evidence appears to show they can also successfully mediate.
Hadassah Fidler LLB is a lawyer trained in the UK, and a licensed mediator both in England and in Israel. She runs Otniel Consultants, a Jerusalem-based conflict resolution practice specialising in resolving conflicts in the workplace.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 1, 2017
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