Negotiate the Source Not the Symbol

When involved in any relationship, at work and at home, there comes a time when we need to negotiate how we are going to spend our time together.

In our primary relationships, we negotiate such things as our leisure time as well as our chores, and how we will treat each other when we communicate. At work, we negotiate priorities, communication pathways and patterns, developmental activities, time off, and time on the job.

THE PROBLEM: Unfortunately, negotiations often turn into conflicts, which then cause arguments, hurt feelings, and possibly the end of closeness in a relationship either mentally, physically, or both.

Negotiations are often approached as bargaining where one party or both will have to give up something. These are win-lose or lose-lose scenarios. Even if you win more than who you are negotiating with, you often lose if the other party is then unhappy with the outcome, making you pay one way or another.

THE SOLUTION: The most satisfying outcome is when both of you get what you want as much as possible. The key is to understand what you REALLY want in the situation. This is as true in manager-employee relationships as it is in spouse, peer, and friendship relationships.

BRAIN TIP: Here are steps for successfully negotiating a relationship disagreement.

1. Each party should agree that they are willing to find an acceptable solution that may not look like what they want at the moment. Willingness is the key to successful negotiations.

2. Both parties should ask themselves WHY they want what they want before they begin looking at options. Why do you want to go to the beach for your vacation? Do you seek the sunshine, the relaxation, the activities, the type of people, or the quiet space? Why do you want to hold morning meetings? Do you need the meeting to set the pace of the day, to get a handle on what everyone is doing, or because this is your best time to concentrate? If you know WHY you want something, then it is easier to find an alternative solution you will be satisfied with.

Sometimes you need to dig deep and tell the truth. Do you just want more attention from you partner? Do you need to feel more in control? Do you need more appreciation, relaxation, or freedom? Seek the source of your desire so you know what you need to ask for, really.

3. Let go of the attachment to your symbols. The expectation, or picture, of the outcome you are holding onto is only a symbol that represents what you desire. If you were honest with yourself in step #2, you can let go of the picture you had so you can create a picture together that meets what y0u both desire.

4. Listen without judgment. Take turns telling each other what you desire, the WHY of your choice. Don’t argue or discount what is important to your partner. Ask questions for clarification if you need to. Do not challenge or criticize. If the conversation begins to get difficult, make a list of your desires on paper and then exchange lists before you speak.

5. Brainstorm as many solutions as you can that might meet each other’s needs. List them before analyzing them. Then for each one, each party can say 1) whether the solution is acceptable, 2) is close and can be modified to fit, or 3) if it just doesn’t work (however, if nothing works, then you have to ask if the person is willing to negotiate, and if not, why not).

6. If you come up with a mutually satisfying solution, celebrate the victory. Celebration reinforces the process of taking the time to negotiate well.

7. If you still can’t agree, then you might try bargaining where each party gives up something to come to an acceptable agreement. Make sure you do not give away something you will regret later, and hold your partner forever accountable for the loss.

There are certainly vacation places, work schedules, ways to respect each other in communications, and ways to share responsibilities and personal spaces that meet your source desires. Take the time to find the solutions where you both get what you want. Your relationship will improve and thrive.

If you would like to reproduce this tip, please credit Marcia Reynolds as the author.
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