How to negotiate an argument

Hopefully you’ve read all the blogs this week on negotiation because this is what it’s been leading up to. These are my personal rules on how to negotiate an argument.

  • Before they are needed, set rules regarding how a negotiation will proceed.  I suggest three steps:  initial conversation, time to think things over, and the negotiation.
  • In every disagreement there is a point where you can feel the anger welling up and the disagreement is about to become a fight.  Recognize when you’ve reached this point and step away.
  • Think carefully about why you’re angry and what you really want out of the situation.  Do your homework.
  • Wait until you can reasonably and rationally talk about the situation, why you are angry, and what you need to happen for the situation to be resolved.
  • Approach your partner and ask for a few moments to speak.  Let them know that they don’t need to respond immediately and that you’d prefer if they took some time to think things over before responding.  They are allowed to respond in their own time but not so long that the issue gets dropped without being resolved.
  • Initial conversation:  Removing as much emotion as possible, use “I” language to explain how you feel (When you do X, I feel Y).  Avoid blaming or inflammatory language.  Explain what you need to happen to resolve the situation.  Be specific and use examples if possible.
  • Time to think it over:  Give your partner space and time to ruminate on what you’ve just told him.  He may disagree with your solution and may decide to come up with an alternate one.  In the beginning and with bigger issues, this may take a few days.  With practice, the amount of time needed to think it over will decrease.  Do not ever expect an immediate response.
  • The negotiation:  Negotiate in good faith until both parties have reached a conclusion they can live with.  If the solution is multi-step or will occur at a future date, put it in writing.  Both of you should walk away from the negotiation feeling as though a fair and equitable solution has been reached.
  • Use positive reinforcement when the solution does occur.  If the solution is to be maintained, use a gentle correction if and when slips occur.

Leave these at the door

Negotiations need to approached calmly and rationally.  You need to keep your wits about you to ensure that you’re not giving up too much or too little.  The following are some things that will sink any negotiation and should never be brought into the negotiating room.

  • Anger – you can’t negotiate reasonably if you are too angry to see the other person’s point of view.  Wait until you are calm.
  • Ego – leave your need to be right out of any negotiation.  You will be too busy attempting to win to mitigate the potential damage to your relationship.
  • Guilt – you needn’t feel guilty about asking for what you want.  You’re not attempting to take advantage of the other person.
  • Past history – approach each negotiation fresh.  Bringing up past arguments will cloud the issue at hand.
  • Distractions – keep your head in the game so you don’t feel the desire to renegotiate a bad negotiation.

Negotiating danger zones

A negotiation is only as good as the people negotiating.  Negotiating does have its pitfalls and here are some of them:

  • Negotiating the obvious – If you’re negotiating every little thing, you might have taken things a bit too far.  The dog needs to be walked but you don’t want to do it?  Sometimes you just have to suck it up.
  • Negotiating before you are ready – You aren’t calm, you haven’t done your homework, whatever the reason – it’s better to delay negotiating than to attempt to negotiate when you are unprepared.
  • Your walk-away is a foregone conclusion – You really don’t want to negotiate so you’re just going through the motions until you can leave the table.  Don’t ever fall in love with your walk-away point unless you’re ready to end the relationship.
  • Renegotiation – The initial negotiation didn’t work so you’re back at the table trying again.  You need to find out why the first negotiation didn’t work before you attempt to renegotiate.

Meet me in the middle

Before you enter into any negotiation you must first do your homework.  Ask yourself what you truly want (don’t be suckered into thinking you want the trash taken out when you really want to feel that he’s participating in the household).  This is your ideal.  Please realize that this probably won’t be achievable.  Then ask yourself what you’ll settle for – this is your fallback position, anything less than this would be your walk-away point.  (Note:  A walk-away point is the end of the negotiation.  You’ll need to reassess your fallback position and quite possibly, your relationship.)  Now figure out what the steps between your ideal and your fallback position are.  You will also need to know what you’re willing to give up to get to what you want.  It will look something like this:

  • Ideal:  100% participation in the household chores without being prompted.
  • Step 1:  50% of household tasks straight down the line without being prompted.
  • Step 2:  Fold laundry, sweep floors, clean bathroom, yard work, maintain car, tidy up after yourself – once a week.
  • Step 3:  Clean bathroom, yard work, tidy up after yourself – once a week.  Dinner dishes every other night.
  • Fallback:  Taking out the trash once a week, putting dirty dishes into dishwasher, keeping socks out of the living room.

As a smart, independent female, you would be wise to consider what your partner is going to want out of the negotiation and figure out how to weave his desires into yours.  People are always more willing to agree to something when they see what is in it for them (in this case, a happy, complaint-free partner).  Again, as you’re negotiating within a relationship do not attempt to win without your partner also winning.  You want to come out of the negotiation with what you want AND your relationship, not just what you want.

Don’t fight, negotiate

The cornerstone of any relationship is agreement although it is virtually impossible to agree on everything and still be your authentic self.  The key to not getting into an all-out war is negotiation.  Negotiation isn’t difficult and you’ve been participating in it ever since you convinced little Jenny on the playground to let you go first at hopscotch.  It does get a bit more complicated as you get older but the basic premise is the same – distributing the gains and losses to make it come out even in the end.

The difference between negotiating in relationships and negotiating in business is that in relationships you will be facing that person on a daily basis – so a win-win is truly necessary.  While it will be difficult, do your best to be generous in a negotiation and trust that the other person will be generous in return.  You may also find that what you thought was a need is actually a want and faced with a decision between that want and your partner, that your partner will win out (and rightfully so – an object or service can never replace another human being).

Getting to negotiation can be a bit awkward to begin with…that is, until everyone involved grows comfortable with the process.  Expect a bit of resistance from your partner or even a feeling of self-consciousness from yourself the first few times.  As you repeat the process and both partners see how well it works, you’ll move more quickly from arguing to negotiating.

Cry and you cry alone

Ladies, we’ve all seen how a guy reacts to tears – they’re paralyzed by them.  It’s like our own version of wielding kryptonite against them.  Because of this, women must use tears judiciously.  In fact, I dare say, women should never cry to manipulate a man.

  1. It’s seriously unfair.  Men aren’t accustomed to tears.  They (generally) only cry when a parent dies or their team loses the championship.  They have no idea how to console a person who is crying because they have little practice in it.
  2. If you cry frequently enough, they will eventually grow immune to it and tears will be a far less effective form of communicating deep disappointment or intense pain.  You will need to find another method of communicating.

Save tears for when they’re truly needed or unavoidable.  If you’re a weepy sort (books, movies, birthday cards), then give the guy fair warning and let him know that he isn’t expected to *do* anything about them.  You both will feel more comfortable with your tears and he will know that your tears are reflective of your true feelings.

Direct from my desk – week 34

A relationship is a delicate balancing act between your needs and the needs of the other person.  It’s difficult not to get sucked so far into someone’s life that you start to lose your footing in your life.  Once you start to feel that you’re giving more than you’re getting, you will begin to feel resentful and take it out on the other person.  If you listen carefully, you can hear the bells tolling, proclaiming the beginning of the end.

It is mandatory that you maintain some sense of autonomy within your relationship.  Not only in keeping up with your life outside your relationship but also in your ability to set and achieve goals independent of your partner.  Do not allow yourself to become someone (for better or worse) that you do not recognize.  Your partner fell in love with you – make sure you are maintaining that person.

My mailbox is open:

A nag is a horse, not a wife

Nagging someone to do something will get you nowhere.  You may get someone to take out the trash once but it is not conducive to making a long-term behavioral change.  The truth is, nagging only serves to make the person doing the nagging feel better.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of someone attempting to chide you into making a change.  I’m also sure that the harder they pushed, the more you dug in your heels.  Why do you think it would be any different with another person?

How to handle it?  First, recognize if you’ve gotten into the habit of nagging and stop immediately.  It may be a good move to apologize for any past scolding you’ve engaged in – it will serve to smooth things over.  Then, when you want something done (a chore, a change, etc.), take a few moments to talk about before you’re at the point to criticize.  Negotiate the space between what you want and what they’re willing to do.  It may be a good idea to put it in writing so everyone knows what is expected of them.  Lastly, know that it may be a lost cause – sometimes you need to just let it go and find another solution.

Theory X

Managing your relationship is a lot like managing in business.  There is a theory that seems to bleed over to relationships quite frequently and it never works – not in business, not in your personal life.  I present to you Theory X.

Theory X states that people are generally unmotivated to perform and are only out for themselves.  Consequently, they need close supervision and for someone to crack the whip to get them moving in the right direction.  I’m sure you’ve heard of at least one manager like this and he/she was probably referred to as an a-hole.  Evidently, this type of manager is not well-liked.

Far too often, women attempt to run their relationships as though the male is in need of constant guidance, explicit instructions, and, sometimes, downright manipulation.  The fact is, if a man has made it safely to adulthood and you found him attractive enough to get involved with, why are you attempting to control him and the relationship?  If he’s not living up to your expectations, you need to speak with him and re-negotiate the expectations on both sides.  Becoming a harridan will only lead to resentment.

Antisocial husband association

One day some enterprising woman will invent the Antisocial Husband Association but until that day, here are some tips to help muddle through:

  • His antisocial behavior is not a reflection upon you.  His behavior is his own.  You do not need to apologize repeatedly for him not showing up to an event.  Give a simple explanation and move on.
  • Do not pressure him to attend events.  He’s a big boy capable of making his own decisions and dealing with the consequences.  Attempting to coerce him will only cause him (and others) to resent you.
  • Do not bow to pressure to pressure him to attend events.  You are not his agent or his intermediary.  If someone really takes exception to his absence, they can take it up with him directly.
  • Do encourage him to attend events that he would enjoy, either with or without you.  Suggest groups or events he might like but do not push (printing off information and tucking it under his laptop is pushing).
  • Do be understanding of a potentially odd friend or two.  However, if a person makes you uncomfortable, for whatever reason, address it with your partner.
  • Maintain your own circle of friends and activities.  Your social life should not be impacted by his desire for a lack of one.