Being a Skilled Negotiator
Without exception, family negotiations are the hardest in the world, including arms-control talks and labor negotiations.
That is because in family negotiations (1) everyone involved has little or no training in mediation or negotiation, (2) the issues “on the table” are wrapped up in personal importance and are usually emotionally loaded, and (3) you don’t have attorneys and experts whispering advice in your ear.
And the rules are different — some of the more hard-line methods can’t be used if you are to achieve positive outcomes.
Following are four steps that can help you develop a key element in strong relationships — being a skilled negotiator:
Be clear on what you want as an outcome, but be flexible — you might create an even better one. “Negotiation” means a give and take. Lay out your specific interest clearly, briefly and positively, then listen completely and politely to the response. Be willing to consider a counter-proposal on its merits.
Put things positively. Talk specifically about what you want, not about the other person’s behavior or presumed intent. Make sure your interests are understood. Saying there is something you’d like to discuss changing is far more productive than just saying you don’t like something.
In preparing to negotiate, consider the other person’s interests and proposals. This is something to which all professional negotiators pay close attention. It provides you with a perspective and understanding that may affect how you approach the other person.
Remind yourself in advance that you are negotiating with people whom you care about and who care for you. You should be seeking “win-win” outcomes.
Negotiating YOUR Way to the Win-Winner’s Circle*
Negotiation is a blend of many skills. You call into play just about everything you know about communicating clearly, controlling anger, averting blame, and being in charge of yourself in a way that influences the outcome — which affects you directly.
Trying to negotiate something without some grasp of these skills is usually ineffective, and sometimes makes everything worse. (If you set up a negotiation, it will be embarrassing if you blow up and stalk out in the middle of it. Before trying a negotiation, it would be a good idea to go back over earlier LifeSkills publications.)
Be positive. If you are unhappy or critical about something, see if you can rephrase that in a positive sense without losing the point. But be clear and specific about what positive thing you would like to happen.
Use the “two-winner model” of negotiations, also called the “win-win” goal. Keep in mind, these are people you care for and live with. Good negotiations are when both parties feel they have been listened to, taken seriously and respected—and that some of their needs have been met.
A good book on the subject is Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, a Penguin paperback (available locally).
There are several concepts and techniques that lead directly to successful negotiations, or to frequent failure if one or more of them is absent. These are among the approaches used by professional negotiators as they tackle subjects as diverse as labor talks, arms control, hostage situations, political law-making and business deals.
Negotiation is truly the primary alternative to war—both internationally and, on a small but important scale, within the home.
Here are some of the basics of family negotiations:
Think precisely about the purpose of opening discussions on a subject. Jot down where you are and where you would like to be, and why. Ask yourself if that is a reasonable expectation, or if it would appear reasonable if you were on the other side of the table. If you are clear and specific in your own mind, the discussions will reflect that.
Request a specific time to meet and discuss one or two issues that will improve your relationships. Don’t try to bite off everything at once. Let the other person or persons know you need some open time when they won’t be rushed or distracted by other commitments.
In family negotiations, it is vitally important to be straight and open—to “lay your cards on the table” at the beginning. Stress early the importance of negotiation versus a control game — the idea of an exchange of values and ideas, reciprocity, give-and-take.
Consider the other person’s point of view and be responsive to that — both in advance of and during the discussions. How would you feel if you were that person? Listen to other views with an open mind — don’t try to hog the conversation. Hearing everyone out considerately is a sign of a skillful negotiator.
Think about what might be keeping the other person stuck on one point. Is it simply non-negotiable (which calls for some reevaluation on your part) or is it based on past experience? If it is past experience, can you propose a compromise? Or just ask what would enable them to move: What is the specific concern?
AVOID EITHER/OR CHOICES in the negotiations. These result often in dead-end ultimatums or gonowhere dilemmas. Try brainstorming a list of ideas. “What could we do about this? Let’s just list the possibilities.” Then select the most promising possibilities and negotiate on those. More alternatives mean more room for negotiation and a higher chance of successful outcomes for everyone.
Reprinted with the permission of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. 2008 Palo Alto Medical Foundation. All rights reserved.
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