A French phrase that means a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it. In US English we could closely (but not exactly) translate this as: a done deal.
One of the things I envy in my partner is his multilingualism and, most importantly, his ability to select words and phrases from several different languages that most accurately describe a situation. Even if you, like me, only master one language, I think it can be useful to expand your vocabulary beyond your native tongue so you can better articulate, and illuminate, your life experiences.
This became apparent recently when I had a situation where someone made a decision, in isolation, about something that had a sole and significant impact on me. When they unexpectedly hit me with this decision I was given little time to react to the implications. What's worse is that there was no reason why this person couldn't give me a heads up. Them acting underhandedly was completely unwarranted.
As you can tell from my essays, I love to analyze difficult situations. It's a personal development tactic that allows me to learn from and possibly avoid future hardship. However, in order to analyze something you must first be able to thoroughly describe it. As I was struggling to summarize the situation my partner stepped in with the perfect phrase.
In business and political negotiations, where this phrase is often used, presenting someone with a fait accompli is typically seen as an unscrupulous tactic to disrupt the balance of power between two parties by one binding the hands of the other. In everyday life people use this shady tactic to get their way without having to deal with any resistance or backlash.
How can you avoid this happening to you?
A fait accompli is a surprise tactic. So the only way to avoid being the victim of it is to anticipate it as a possibility. Second, it is a violation of trust, so it is more likely to take place when weak ties exist between the two parties.
Drawing from my own experience: I had a business contract that was terminated abruptly with absurd but legal reasoning. Even though I didn't know the person, I entered into the contract with some level of trust because we were both a part of a network that I regarded highly. Unfortunately, this didn't keep me from being blindsided.
I should have padded the contract with clauses that offered me better protection in the event the business partner turned out to be disreputable (which was the case here). However, I was wise to continue keeping open multiple and diverse streams of income so one lost contract didn't harm my livelihood.
We often have to interact and become involved with people or entities where little or no trust exists. Societies function because of the human ability to closely coordinate with others despite loose connections. What makes this work is a shared belief in a moral code. However, despite conventionally accepted standards, there's no guarantee that the people you deal with have the same moral sense as you.
Always have a good idea of what you have to gain and lose by being involved with someone (especially when the relationship is new). It doesn't matter if it is a newfound friendship or a new job, there are always stakes at hand. Know what they are and have some understanding of how to guard against substantial loss if things go sour.
What can you do if it happens to you?
I first want to call out the differences between a fait accompli situation and say a friend committing you to something you don't want to do. This is not the same because in the latter situation you still have an out. It may be difficult to overcome your inner turmoil between honoring your own desires vs. your sense of obligation to the friend, but it's still a decision you are able to make.
When you are presented with a fait accompli the decision has been made for you and you have to accept it. However, that does not mean you can't do something about it.
The first thing you can do is call it out and let it be known that it is roguish of them to trap you in this way. If you are dealing with a particularly unprincipled individual or entity it may not result in anything. However, if you are dealing with someone who takes some level of pride in their reputation it could result in a change of mind (or at least acknowledgment and/or an apology).
The second is that you can put pressure on the person in another area. Don't automatically assume you are powerless. Think about whether you have leverage via some other means and don't be afraid to flex your muscles. For instance, mistreated consumers in the US can get help from the Better Business Bureau (this has resolved many situations for me). Disgruntled or unfairly fired employees can reach out to the press and expose a company's questionable policies.
From the ACLU (and citizens) taking up for victims of the Muslim Ban to the press exposing sexual harassment at Uber after one victim blogged about it, there are always options to deal with dire circumstances.
In my situation, I called it out and did receive some, albeit feeble, acknowledgment of the other party's wrong in the situation. It didn't change their mind but I didn't want it to because as soon as I saw that they there were shady I wanted no further dealings with them (... fool me twice shame on me). Moreover, judging from the subpar way in which they run their business they may not be around long.
That said, it's a small world and as I mentioned we are apart of the same network. If I ever have the opportunity to share my opinion or warn someone else against doing business with them, I most certainly will.
Should you ever use this tactic?
I remember when I first heard the saying "it's better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission" and how it became such a conundrum for me. On one hand, it seemed like a refreshing excuse to prioritize progress over stagnation. On the other, it seemed blatantly deceptive. No matter how you spin it this maxim is a fait accompli and the moral dilemma it presents is in trying to determine when it is (if at all) ok to use.
Here's how I personally handle tough moral dilemmas. First, and I discussed this before, I try to live by a simple motto which is: do what you want to do so long as you do no harm. In most cases this acts as a quick and sufficient mental check against amoral behavior.
However, life always presents us with conflicts that aren't so easily resolved. Sometimes we end up in situations where we feel forced to make dishonest choices (particularly when our livelihood is threatened). In those cases I try to assess the full consequences of my actions and seek any alternatives that alleviate negative outcomes for all involved. In other words, I try my best to hold to a moral standard and, if I can't, I then focus on lessening the negative impact of the unethical decision.
In the case of using fait accomplis, then, you should ask yourself why this tactic is the one and only way to achieve favorable results for yourself. Must you purposely go behind someone's back to get your way? Are you aware of the negative impact making a decision without their input will have on them? If you choose to move forward with this tactic, are you ok with the potential backlash (a counterattack on your reputation, for example)?
As in all moral dilemmas, the classification of right vs. wrong is subjective but consequences are sure things. The smartest way to make decisions is by recognizing that every action has an effect, and being aware of the potential outcomes of your choices.
Images part of the Hidden Series by interdisciplinary artist Agata Wierzbicka.