Negotiating isn’t limited to round table discussions between hostile governments or even between buyer and seller. Negotiation happens all the time and no less than in the family unit. In order to get the best from a negotiation it’s a good idea to know some basic rules, rules that benefit all the parties involved with the discussion at hand. When it comes to the family, knowing how to negotiate can save a lot of headache and heartache when everyone’s concern is addressed calmly. Generally, negotiations are never one-sided. The exception is when a parent needs to address the terms of a newborn. While no words are ever spoken the terms are there, nevertheless: “Change my diaper and I’ll stop crying.” What parent can argue with such terms?
The family unit is all about negotiation. Husband and wife do it regularly, the wife usually has the upper hand; she can always go to her mother’s. The same happens when Sweet Sixteen brings home a boyfriend that looks like Rasputin. You have to be diplomatic at such times. Neither a hot bath or a haircut is of much use unless the parents are the only ones to take one.
For most people negotiation means getting something for nothing. While no one has as yet succeeded in our current world, there are some who keep trying. Case in point: Kim Jong Ill whose country obviously has nothing might want to negotiate nuclear weapons for food.
Negotiation usually occurs between two people, though this is not always the case when you factor in lawyers and the United Nations. Due to limited finances most families can’t afford lawyers. The rules are standard and apply equally whether you are the President or Bin Laden.
Contrary to public opinion, for negotiations to succeed, there must be a middle ground on which to start and end on a 50-50 compromise that benefits both parties. There simply isn’t much room if one party threatens to nuke the other. If he has a bomb and you don’t there won’t be a 50-50 compromise.
So let’s get down to the hard rules.
Rule #1: Find a neutral ground in which to negotiate. So you might not be able to use the U.N. facilities, but your home isn’t the best place for a negotiation due to distractions such as children, telephone and when the milkman calls on your wife. Home leads to too much emotional involvement. If she doesn’t like what you’re saying, it’s damn hard to discuss terms with her locked behind the bathroom door.
The local pub doesn’t do either, for several reasons. The local patrons might be too eager to get involved and offer solutions from the bottom of their beer tankards. That kind of advice is not likely to help your unique situation. And if you happen to have a few too many yourself, chances are you won’t remember what the negotiation session was all about or agree to terms you wouldn’t otherwise if you were sober. Negotiations can become emotional affairs which likely will get you thrown out by the pub’s bouncer. And he’s not likely to negotiate terms.
Dinner at a fine restaurant is the next best thing. You have to keep your voice down to a bare whisper so the other patrons don’t have to pity your conditions. You should stick with the subject at hand, even if the restaurant food isn’t too your liking. You simply can’t negotiate with two different parties at the same time over unrelated topics.
Rule #2: Keep the subject focused. There isn’t any use to start arguing about the sorry state of family finances and the fact that hubby has been seeing too much of his office secretary when the central subject is who should put the toilet seat down and keep it there. Flying in all directions is bad, especially when you don’t know where your partner is going to hit you next.
Rule #3: Never work under a deadline. If hubby needs to go to work in ten minutes and the wife has her bags packed for a visit to her mother, there isn’t much room for negotiation beyond who gets to pick up the tab at the restaurant or the taxi. Hasty conversations never get anywhere beyond indigestion and acid reflux.
Rule #4: Common ground. While there may seem nothing to agree upon, your first job should be to find it. After all you agreed to get married based on some great need for companionship, sex or tax relief. Children are often a good place to start since you both have some involvement in their birth and in raising them. Of course I’m not talking about who gets custody unless that IS the subject of the negotiation.
Rule #5: Keep the emotions out of it. They cloud your reasoning. Conflicts always arise because some need is not met by one or both parties. The point is to listen to your partner with an open mind. So stifle that yawn if you think you’ve heard it before. Try to understand things from the opposite point of view. That might be difficult if you’re both gay.
Rule #6: Build trust. That’s what you tried to do before you married him/her. And unless he/she is a confirmed psychopath, there shouldn’t be any reason to renew friendly relations, which is good if kids are involved. They like happy homes. That makes it easy for them as they don’t have to take sides based on incomplete facts and avoids conflict between brother and sister too.
Rule #7: Go for the throat. Sorry, that should be the last resort. I mean work your way toward finding a Win-Win compromise. That should be your central goal and nothing should stand in the way not even your office secretary or Henry Kissinger. You obviously have to find a compromise that works for both parties. You should know by now that there are no winners in a war. That might be difficult if you or her is a confirmed Communist where negotiation is only meant to win at all costs. In that case a divorce might be in order, a win-win situation for both of you and something you can agree on. That only leaves the custody battles. We all know who pays alimony so that subject need not be discussed.
There you have it. Seven rules to a happy marriage and family life. Avoid nuclear catastrophe at home and just maybe there will be peace on Earth.