The spiritual leader of Buddhism, Dalai lama, had retold the world about his mistake in meeting with Mao Tse Tung, the late Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and Revolution, the Long March, on Tibet issue. He said he didn’t know then that in any first conversation between opposing parties, and in most meetings between prominent figures, start with a small talk first, progressing slowly to substantive issues or to the purpose of the meeting.
When parties are far apart and there was breakdown of diplomacy and communication, the only thing that gets the parties talking to each other is small talk that avoids the substance like the weather of the day, family issues, anything that avoids the subject to be discussed. This is called ICEBREAKING. Icebreaking is an important element of negotiation technics and harmless tool to understand and appreciate each other’s humanity and sophistication in life. It breaks down anxieties and make everybody comfortable and at ease. It is only then that real talks and negotiations get started.
In Somali culture, it starts with jokes designed for pleasure and laughter. But, this can go wrong too and misinterpreted, if the other party has no sense of humor. It is therefore imperative to learn about the other party before you meet them. It is equally crucible to monitor and watch out body language and signs of discomforts in the other party to be able to adjust to the needs of the environment where the talks are being held. An example of jokes entertained in current Mogadishu talks that transpired when Guudlaawe and Qoor Qoor reminded Deni and Madobe that they constituted the united voice of Hawiye constituents, then Deni and Madobe had looked at Farmajo and advised him to join them as the united representatives of Darood. In reaction, Farmajo was stunned.
I am not present at Mogadishu talks taking place now between FGS and FMSs, but I suspect that both Farmajo and Ahmed Madobe look too stiff to own sense of humor in an adversity environment, and that they lack the abilities to mask their hatred to each other by utilizing small talk and humor to break the ice. I wish I could be wrong.
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