Conflict and Negotiation
In my last post about reducing repetitive fighting, I outlined what can and cannot be negotiated. Feelings, values and attitudes cannot be negotiated. Behaviors can be negotiated.
Before negotiating a change pertaining to a particular behavior, the impact of the behavior must first be understood.
Understanding is dependent on the couple’s ability to describe the impact, i.e., the experience of the behavior. An experience consists of what we think, feel and do, i.e., our thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Too frequently a behavior change is demanded. Research has shown that a desired behavior change is far more likely to occur if the impact of the behavior is understood. Demand for behavior change is often met with resistance.
Business negotiation differs from couple’s negotiation in one very important way: Couples’ effectively negotiate when each facilitates both getting what they want without either capitulating/selling out, nor bulldozing each other.
Here is how it’s done:
Negotiation has two phases:
Phase l: From DEMAND Statement to IMPACT Statement
DEMAND STATEMENT: “You have to start doing some of the house work around here! This simply isn’t fair! You don’t do a damn thing around here!”
IMPACT STATEMENT: “I feel over worked and under appreciated. It seems to me that I do the bulk of the chores around here. I’m tired when I get home from work, and then I work even more. I really need some help.
Devise an impact statement, and resist your impulse to demand behavior change. A demand will reduce the odds of getting what you want, whereas an impact statement increases the odds of a successful negotiation.
PHASE ll: NEGOTIATE
Begin the negotiation process with the following statement: “we seem to disagree about….(fill in the blank).” Avoid statements that begin with “we have a problem.”
Example: “We seem to disagree about who does the chores around the house. I want to talk about a different way to manage the chores.”
Next, the one who wants the behavior change is afforded the opportunity to describe their experiences that explain their desire for change. Describing experience means to express thoughts, feelings and behaviors associated with the desire for change.
Here’s how that might sound: “When I get home at the end of the day only to find that I have a list of chores that seems like a mile long, I feel so deflated. I’m also very tired after I get home from work at the end of the day. When you and others don’t help out, I think I’m being taken for granted and unappreciated. After years of that, I end up dreading coming home to more work and no help, and then I’m just angry and resentful. That’s why I seem so distant to you, and disinterested in doing anything with you, including our sex life.”
The listening partner’s tasks are to listen, recap and ask questions. The questions are designed to elicit more of the speaker’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to the change they desire.
If need be, you can switch roles, and the listener has the opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
This process intends that each partner is free to describe their experiences so that the issue is as completely understood as possible prior to negotiating any change. As with any couples issue, the more completely understood it is, the better the odds of crafting a mutually satisfactory solution.
The Look of Successful Negotiating
Once the issue is understood from each partner’s view and experience, the negotiating can begin. Either partner may start. Each solution put forth by either partner is done with each of you in mind. This is not about winning. It’s about finding a mutually acceptable solution.
Here’s the way it might go: “I can see a scenario where I can do A, B and C chores on 3 evenings per week. That would work for me because I found to a way to rearrange my gym time after work, and here’s how I think it might work for you: When you get home from work I will already be there picking up the pieces so that when you get home, you can relax—you won’t have to jump right in.”
If the solution offered doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot, the partner can then respond with their suggestion. It might sound like this:
“That’s not bad—I like what I’m hearing, and I really appreciate that you were putting the effort into what might work for me and for you. Most of that is perfect! But there’s one more thing—how about this—on your way home you also call me to ask if I need anything for preparing dinner, and, when you get home, you finish dinner prep on the days you don’t go to the gym. That works for me because it puts you in the kitchen, and frees me to spend some time by myself to clear my head. It works for you because it makes me more receptive to you.”
A back-and-forth dialog of this sort can continue as long as you need it to.
Two crucial aspects of the negotiation process:
First, discuss your experiences in relation to the issue prior to negotiating and suggesting solutions. Second, each of you is watching out for the other.
Try this. You won’t be disappointed.
Wishing you a satisfying relationship,
Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT
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