Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Negotiating your way through marriage, Part 1

I am currently taking a course on Negotiations that is being taught by a prominent local elected official and I really, really love it. As the semester has moved on we have done a lot of background reading and performed various negotiations ourselves and I really feel like I am gaining valuable skills. But as I have been learning how to apply negotiating skills to professional situations I have also been thinking about how the skills I am learning can and will be really useful in my marriage. I see particular possibility for this as D and I move through the various big conversations that we will need to have as we decide what to do with our lives.

The term "negotiation" sometimes gives people a strange feeling; people get flashes of Donald Trump banging his fist on the table and a room full of old white men making extreme poker-faces. And for that reason people (especially women, I'll get to this later) are really uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating in families or friendships, not to mention marriages. But this is really silly. First of all, the kind of positional power-play bargaining that is the "face" of Donald Trump-style negotiation is actually NOT effective negotiation most of the time. In fact, one of the tenets of good negotiating is the ability to come to an agreement with someone while maintaining a continued relationship with that person. Second of all, you will end up negotiating with your partner all the time anyway, so you might as well learn how to do it well.

Honestly, I think that openly negotiating in marriage is a really good idea, and I think that many of the skills I am learning will really, really help as the hubs and I work through the next several months and the rest of our lives. And I know that some of you are in similar situations, so in the interest of idea-sharing and general negotiation-promotion, in the next few posts I am going to share some of the "main" negotiation skills I have learned and apply them to our upcoming situation. I may end with some more general negotiation lessons (particularly for us women-folk),we'll see.

For today, Lesson One is:

1) Focus on interests, not positions. If you do not know what someone's interests are, ask them.

The focus on interests is key here - because D and I both have professional interests, we have personal interests for ourselves as individuals, and we have family interests (as in, what we want for our new family). It is highly likely that our professional interests will directly contradict each other and while our family interests may be shared, they may also be divergent, and we need to be able to talk about that openly and honestly. As I've mentioned before there is potential for a lot of emotional struggle here. But if we can focus on each other's interests (i.e. family is really really important to me) before moving forward into specific "positions" (i.e. I have an awesome job in Canada) then the whole process might be both more fair and less emotionally fraught.

And the asking is really important as well. If we openly ask each other: "What are your personal interests, desires, goals? What are my personal interests, desires, goals? How does this relate to profession? To family?" We not only create space for discussion but we make it okay for each one of us to have those desires. In situations like ours both people can feel guilty for wanting what they want, or for not wanting something, and there is incentive to hide one's true feelings. But having a discussion about our basic underlying interests makes it okay to want.

Asking is also important because when you live with someone it is easy to think you know what they want or what their priorities are. But this is never, never something anyone should assume. Everyone should have the chance to speak their piece and be heard, especially in a marriage, and even if you ask and they say exactly what you thought they would, it is likely that the person will still appreciate having been asked the question.

I think that is all for lesson one.

Next up: 80% of Negotiation is Preparation.


  1. Not that I don't think everything you said was valuable (looking forward to more lessons) but for me, right now, this is the most important takeaway:

    ***Everyone should have the change to speak their piece and be heard, especially in a marriage, and even if you ask and they say exactly what you thought they would, it is likely that the person will still appreciate having been asked the question.***

    Ask. Listen. Learn. That's my mantra for life with my husband this week.

  2. I actually forwarded this to my Mr. And I am looking forward to lesson 2. Thanks for sharing the wealth, MWK!

  3. Negotiation 101 - awesome!

    Your point about not assuming that you already know what people want is such a good one, and so important to remember. As well as I think I know my husband, I've been taken by surprise at times...

    I'm really looking forward to more in this series!