We all have our not-so-classy moments when we find ourselves failing at productively advocating for what we want. We might respond to our frustration and sense of failure with yelling, sarcasm, condescension, silent treatments, gossip, isolating ourselves or even physical violence. Have the occasional shouting matches and guilt trips gotten you what you wanted in the past-or have they created a new set of problems of their own? Why should you master negotiation skills?
There is a wide spectrum of important conversations we all deal with in life, whether it is a teenager’s recent behavior, figuring out how to co-parent with an ex-partner or negotiating for a higher salary. Unfortunately, people faced with situations that matter a great deal to them tend to experience what is considered a fight-or-flight response activation in their bodies and minds. What this means is as a result of fear-producing thoughts, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released into the bloodstream. This generally causes the heart to beat faster and blood to move into the muscles (this is your body’s way of helping you get ready to run or fight). One tends to become highly aware and ready to take on what the body perceives as the “enemy”.
You may respond to these situations by retreating (flight). Sometimes, pulling back is the only thing that you can do (ie; a tiger is lunging at you and you have nothing to fight back with). If you find that you tend to withdrawal every time you have a conflict, you are likely to become depressed and anxious. Why? Because when you do not advocate for yourself, you are sending a message to your brain that you do not value yourself enough to take care of yourself (producing depressed feelings). You may also be telling yourself that you “can’t” stick up for yourself (producing anxiety/fear feelings).
You may also respond to these situations by becoming aggressive (fight). If this is your style, you are more likely to have anger management problems. You may get what you want through negative coercion (intimidation, threatening, name-calling…), but perhaps you have noticed that even your closest relationships are worn thin and broken by this behavior. To make matters worse, you have also likely burned a bridge, created distance from the people you want to be close to, and lost credibility. Is that what you really want?
You may have mastered a combination of both, and become passive-aggressive. If you use condescension, patronizing, purposely being late, flaking out or otherwise sneakily getting others back for letting you down, ask yourself if you have ever solved the problem that way. You may be driving the person who offended you crazy (which may make you feel better in a sense), but you never addressed the problem and thereby the problem persists.
If you find that you take on one of the above behaviors when faced with conflict, chances are those behaviors aren’t working very effectively. Am I right?
Now, I will discuss exactly how to negotiate for what you want. This may be very foreign to you, but it is a very powerful technique that can be used by anyone with the willingness to try. For additional information, I greatly recommend the book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” http://www.vitalsmarts.com/crucialconversations_book.aspx whose main principles I include in this section.
1.) First of all, just because you feel like yelling or withdrawing doesn’t mean that is the best course of action. You may have strong emotions, but strong emotions don’t cause poor behavior, you do. Stay cool and take some time if you need it.
2.) Ask yourself what you really want for yourself, others, for the relationship. How would you act if you wanted these results? You must hold firm to what you really want. Do you want to be respected at work? Do you want to be closer to your spouse? Then act in a way that will get you there.
3.) Ask yourself whether you and this person have any goals in common. Perhaps you both want to be in a happy marriage. Maybe you disagree about everything else, but you both want to raise the kids in the healthiest way possible. Maybe, you both want the company to be as productive as possible…? Move away from seeing the person involved as the enemy. Move towards seeing them as a human being who has a different perspective, who may shed light on the situation as a whole. See them as someone who will benefit from seeing your perspective as well.
4.) Get the other person ready to hear what you have to say. If the other person feels unsafe, they will generally withdrawal or get aggressive. Watch to see if they stop talking or start raising their voice. Notice if they are being condescending or rude. If so, this is not the time to make your point. If they are behaving in this way, it means that they do not feel safe talking to you.
a. You can help to establish safety by
i. not letting yourself get sucked into withdrawing or becoming aggressive yourself,
ii. telling them what you really want (ie “I want us to both be as happy as possible in this relationship”) and what purpose you guess you both have in common,
iii. minimizing damage by telling them what you are –not- trying to say (ie “I’m not saying you are lazy, boring…)
5.) Once the other person is behaving as if they are feeling safe (more eye contact, more open, no defensive behavior), come into the situation with the attitude that both people’s views of the situation are equally important. Do not move to this step until you have really established feelings of trust in the other person. If they doubt your intentions, they won’t hear a word you have to say. If they trust your intentions, they will listen to anything you say. So make sure you have good intentions and that you have communicated them as such.
a. Give the person the bare bones facts. Be specific. (Focus on what has happened or what is happening from your perspective). Do not play therapist and tell the other person what he/she thinks or feels (that makes people defensive). Speak for yourself alone and from your own perspective (ie “From what I saw…”).
b. You may tell the other person (tentatively) at this time what the facts seem to mean to you at this point. Understand that your interpretation of the facts is only an interpretation (which is subjective). Know that your interpretations are the cause of your emotions, and because interpretations are subject to change, so are your feelings about the matter. Be open to the fact that as they respond, they might add information which could change your mind about the situation.
c. Ask the person for clarification, and keep an open mind.
d. Once you have both added information to define the situation as accurately as possible, it is time to go back to why you are having this conversation. Let the person know what you need from them at this time, and what outcome is likely if the situation is adjusted vs. not adjusted (ie “If I am the only one doing household chores, I will find myself wanting to pull away from you out of resentment, and wanting to give you less positive attention. If you do the dishes every other night, I will feel loved and will want to give you more attention, backrubs…whatever”).
e. The more information you both can add about why you want what you want (sticking to the facts), the easier it will be to come up with a plan C that works for both of you. For example, if I want to go to take a ferry boat ride today and my friend wants to see a movie, it may seem like there is no middle ground. But if we discuss why we want what we want, it is easier to find a win-win solution. I want to take a ferry so I can be near the water and my friend wants to go to a movie to zone out and get lost in a story. Is there somewhere where we can both accomplish what we want? Perhaps we can go to the beach and read novels…
Remember, if you have been talking for more than 15-20 minutes and you are starting to get heated, take a break and commit to resolving the issue at a later time. Stay focused on your objectives and don’t be distracted with details that don’t pertain to the task at hand (more to come on fair fighting).
Try out these skills and see how they impact your everyday relationships, your work and your ability to communicate effectively in the community. You will be amazed at the results!