Have you ever tried to approach your relationship as a business transaction when it comes to negotiating your concerns and desires? You lie out the facts and expect that your partner will see it your way hoping that there will be a quick and easy solution. You soon discover your solutions are in conflict with your partner’s ideas. Before you know it, you have just spent the last two hours in an escalating fight trying to convince your partner why your solutions are more effective than your partner’s. You are now asking yourself how did my simple request become so emotional and out of control?
Negotiation can be messy and riddled with tension. Finger pointing, blame, selfish demands and resentful compliance are often part of the process. Managing emotions is an essential part of negotiation. The key is to stop defining the problem and to start managing the emotions that erupt in the process.
The three most common negotiating mistakes couple’s make are:
- Caving too quickly to avoid tension or to keep the peace
- Stubbornly pushing too hard for your own solution
- Failure to prepare before the negotiation with your partner
No one likes conflict but the fact is that conflict is inevitable for growth in your relationship. Good negotiation leads to acceptable solutions that work for both and strengthen your relationship.
A win-win solution is the best approach but often the most difficult to attain. Self-knowledge plus a high degree of understanding of your partner’s values, concerns and desire is required to achieve the win-win. Respect for yourself and for your partner, openness, curiosity, the ability to hear your partner and persistence is what drives a successful negotiation.
Let me be clear, the only things that can be negotiated are behaviors and decisions. Core values, integrity, spirituality, emotions and attitudes cannot be negotiated.
To prepare for a negotiation, ask yourself how you aspire to be during the negotiation. For
example, “I want to be calm, open, flexible, honest, understanding and curious.” You may want to write these guidelines on paper and frequently glance at them throughout the process as a way to assist you in staying centered and focused.
Be aware that negative emotions and attitudes can interfere with effective negotiation, even before it starts. Uncover these attitudes or fears first and reframe them into a positive to assist you in being confident in this process.
Before you start the negotiation, you will want to become clear about your concerns and desires. Once you are aligned with your intention expressing yourself will become more effective. Reflect on the following questions:
1. What do I want?
2. How important is this to me?
3. Why is this important?
4. To get what I want, what will I need to do and what will my partner need to do?
5. If I get most of what I want what is the positive and negative effect on my partner?
6. How could I make it easier for my partner to say yes?
7. I’m afraid if we don’t resolve this disagreement, then the effect on my partner and myself
might be _____________.
8. If I get most of what I want, the effect on me would be _________.
9. If I get most of what I want, the benefit to my partner will be _________.
10. It may be hard for my partner to give me most of what I want because ________.
11. I may be able to decrease the downside to my partner by __________.
Start by describing the issue as a disagreement instead of as a problem. A problem suggests finger pointing or blame that only leads to a defensive reaction from your partner. You can say, “We seem to have a disagreement about ____.”
Next, one person goes first and expresses all their concerns while the partner listens without rebutting or defending. The response is simply to recap, check for understanding and be curious about anything you don’t understand by asking questions. Once the first partner is done, the other partner gets their chance to be heard.
Once you both have expressed all concerns and desires and each feels understood it is time to brainstorm solutions. One partner goes first using the following format:
Honey, what I suggest is _______. This suggestion works for me because ______. This
suggestion might work for you because ________. This formula encourages being a good selfadvocate. Simultaneously, it forces you to consider your partner’s perspective.
If the partner agrees with the whole suggestion, then recap why it works. If the partner does not agree then start with recapping the part that does work using the following: The part that does work is ________. The part that doesn’t work is ___________. So my alternative suggestion is__________. And it might work for you because ________.
Add value to your offers. Keep finding ways to make it easier for your partner to say yes. Keep repeating suggestions until an agreement is reached.
If action is appropriate, decide who will do what by when. Decide for how long you will try this solution. After the action phase, come back and evaluate the results. If adjustments are needed, be open to discuss the changes using the formula above. You can start by saying, “Honey, it didn’t work the way I hoped, but here is what I could have done differently.” Don’t start by stating what your partner should have done differently.
Note: These tips on negotiating are adapted from a blog article written by Peter Pearson of the Couple’s Institute entitled Negotiating for Couples.