Conflict is inevitable at some point in important relationships. Differences CAN be healthy and lead to constructive changes.
Constructive negotiating is a learned skill. Below are a few suggestions that might be helpful:
Organize your priorities beforehand.Feel free to come with your thoughts on paper if you need to.Try to focus on defining what is most important in terms of overall goals; then see if you can develop more than one acceptable solution to each goal or problem.
Bring relevant information.This might include copies of prior agreements, schedules, important dates, names and phone numbers of involved participants.
STATING THE PROBLEM
Getting started.Begin by stating something positive -- something positive about the other person, your wishes that things get resolved, about your hopes. (Try not to undo this statement by qualifying it with something negative.)
Stating the problem. Don’t assume your feelings are obvious or your intentions are obvious.Express your thoughts and feelings directly. Begin statements with “I feel...” rather than “you make me feel...”Stay focused as much as possible on your own thoughts, feelings and intentions.
Be brief.After you have stated the problem, be quiet and wait for the other person to respond.Repetition does not strengthen your argument.
Make room for the other person’s description of their experience through active listening. Your experience is undoubtedly different from the other person’s.It is not necessary for one to be right and one to be wrong.It is important to feel understood and to reflect that you understand the other’s perceptions.
(Remember: understanding the other point of view is not the same as agreeing with it.)
Deal with one problem at a time.Don’t bring up everything on your agenda at once, and stay focused on one issue at a time until it is resolved. It helps to list your priorities beforehand in order of importance to you.
Begin easy, with the more straightforward, less complicated, less emotionally charged issues, and work toward the more complicated, more emotional issues.
Take turns speaking.Guard against interrupting another person mid-sentence before that person has had an opportunity to complete his or her thoughts.
Try not to make assumptions about the other person’s motivations.Think of specific examples of observable behaviors rather than underlying motivations or generalizations. (“When you slam your fist on the table I feel....” rather than, “when you can’t control yourself.”Or “I know you won’t like this, but”)
Assume that there is a solution that will satisfy both of you, and work toward that.
Arrange a convenient time and place to begin problem-solving.Waiting for the right moment just to “happen,” or ambushing an unprepared person, does not usually work.Pick a neutral place where you will not be interrupted.If children are at issue between you, make sure they cannot overhear.
Attempt to address the concerns of the other person in your proposed solutions.Try to “walk in the other person’s shoes” as they are speaking, so that you have an understanding of how the problem looks from their perspective.Understanding the other person’s point of view does not necessarily mean that you agree with it.
Consider trying out several variations to see how they will work, rather than assuming you have to know ahead of time whether it will.
Consider that a solution might be in your interests even if the other person suggested it.
Focus on current events and present causes.Try to avoid pulling in historical events which have emotional charges surrounding them.If those past events need to be discussed, consider setting aside a specific time for that.
Be the first to admit your part of the problem.Owning a part of the problem does not invalidate your position, it strengthens it.Admitting your part first takes the wind out of the sails of the opposition and helps you stay in charge of what can be done about it.
RESPONDING TO THE OTHER PERSON
Take time to restate or summarize key thoughts or ideas throughout the process: “If I understand you right, you are saying...”It is especially helpful in a negotiating process to acknowledge the sore points, central issues, big concerns of the other person.(“I understand that you are worried about ‘X’”).If you are interested in influencing the other person's viewpoint, remember that people are often able to shift their viewpoints only after they feel they have been heard.
Work to remain neutral in tone of voice, and in behavior and body language. Be aware of body posture, gestures, and try to avoid such reactions as frowns, eye-rolling, etc.If you have reactions to what the other person is saying, attempt to put those into direct statements, rather than gestures.
Ask questions rather than making assumptions.If you have a reaction to something the other person said, take time to ask them if that is what they meant before reacting to it. (“Do you really mean to say such and such?”)
Stay on topic instead of labeling the other person. Avoid name-calling, insults, criticisms. Stay focused on behavior, actions, issues, and not persons. Try to remember that it is the person’s actions you are upset about.
Avoid such phrases as“you always...,” “you never...,”Overstating your case often backfires by causing the other person not to take in what you are saying.The best remedy is to become as precise as possible.
If you find yourself too emotionally reactive and feel that you might say something you will regret later, find a way to 'go to the balcony:'ask for a break, take a breath, walk around the block -- whatever it takes.
Avoid making threats, physical or emotional.No bomb-throwing; avoid saying “I’m leaving,” “you’ll never see the kids again,” etc.Physical and emotional threats are acts of violence and incompatible with problem-solving.
Negotiate the end of the discussion, rather than abruptly abandoning ship.Sometimes a negotiation cannot be finished in one sitting, or one or both people feel they have reached the point at which emotions are interfering with productive discussion.Rather than hanging up, or in some other way abruptly stopping, announce your reasons for not being able to continue and indicate your willingness to pick up the issue at a later date.
It is always okay to take a break for a few moments to collect your thoughts.
Avoid sulking or pouting or other obvious non-verbal communication of discontent once the discussion is over.If you still have feelings left over but you’ve had enough talking for one day, acknowledge them and suggest another time to address them.
Give yourself time to think things through.If you are not sure about a particular solution or agreement, say so.In the long run, it is better to take the time to consider the agreement for a longer period of time than to not follow through on an ill-considered agreement.
Mary A. Duryee, Ph.D. 2014 San Francisco Bay Area Psychologist and Mediator PSY 7975