This is the 6th post in the Relationship as a Team Series.
In the Parking Lot
A blogplay — a play in 10 lines or less
ED and ANN are in the car ride home, arguing about what took place in the parking lot before they got in the car.
ED: What are you talking about? I NEVER said that!
ANN: Yes, You did!!! Barbara was standing right there, you can ask her. You said, verbatim, “Your work is pointless!”
ED: You totally mistook what I was saying . . .
ANN: You’re just trying to cover for yourself.
ED: Cover what? Why would I say that???
ANN: I don’t know. Because you’re mean. Because you don’t believe in what I do. Because you’re angry about what happened last week. I don’t know!
Well, there it is. Whether I am a playwright or not is up for consideration, but welcome to the blogplay (I like it as one word, what do you think?) — a play in ten lines or less. I wanted a fun, novel way to represent “fighting fair” — the theme of this trilogy — in which we previously explored the difference between good and bad fights, ground rules for fighting fair, and how to prevent a bad one by translating.
As you can see, ED and ANN need some help. So today, we’re going to explore negotiation as a key component to fighting fair.
So much could be and has already been written on the art of negotiation. For our purposes here let’s point out a few key factors that distinguish successful negotiations from other types of conflict:
1. Negotiations are largely driven by facts, as opposed to emotions
2. They are most successful when all parties:
- are secure but not rigid in their positions
- have a vested interest in keeping the other content
If you think about negotiating for a raise, you can see how the above guidelines apply. You need to be armed with facts about why your request is important to not only you but also the company. For successful fighting at home, I recommend we borrow these guidelines from our business environments, and learn how to negotiate in conflict.
What if that little play were between two colleagues at work? How would it go? My guess is it would go more like this:
After the Meeting: A negotiation
ANN: What you said in there about my work being a waste in front of our colleague was very confusing and I want to know — what is going on that you would say that?
ED: I didn’t say it.
ANN: Are you sure? It sure sounded like you did.
ED: Yes, I know, Ann. But what I meant, and thought I said, but perhaps should have said more clearly, is that you are better off not wasting your time and energy on the work that gets you nowhere and the tasks that don’t suit you — not at all that I think your actual work is a waste of time.
ANN: Hmmm … well, we might have different opinions about that. Look … I am not sure what happened, but for next time, please note, if you are trying to help me or say something useful, then doing it in that way — with a harsh tone, in pubic — doesn’t work. I need you in my corner, Ed.
ED: (jovially) Wanna talk more about it at lunch?
Wouldn’t it be useful if more personal fights had more professional consideration, i.e., with more directness, less defensiveness, less reactivity and less projection?
It’s a huge challenge, because the types of provocation that occur more frequently in intimate relationships, plus the multitudes of roles we play at home, as well as the greater physical proximity to each other, make it far more difficult to be in the calmer state that good negotiations require.
Not all arguments can be clean or just. Sometimes, even at work, you just need to have a good ol’, messy argument, like a thunderstorm, to clear the humidity in the air.
But if you are having too many storms, or find yourself in a constant state of low-grade conflict, consider launching your next argument as you would a negotiation. Here’s some guidelines:
BEFORE you argue, get calm enough to identify what you want and/or need to communicate, and what the desired outcome of the communication is. Ask yourself: “How will it benefit me and the partnership to have this discussion? What am I trying to accomplish?”
If you can’t find an answer to both, I recommend even more down time apart, cooling off and sorting through some things before you reengage. This is not easy, because we love to have things resolved right away. But amazing changes can happen in relationships if you are willing and able to shelve a topic for a later time when you have arrived in a state of equilibrium and true curiosity. Urgency dissipates. Listening improves.
Keep in mind, sometimes the best way to learn ideal timing for successful negotiations is to go back into the ring prematurely and watch what happens for yourself.
Good luck with fighting fair! If you would like some training in how to do it more effectively, at home or at work, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Do you resonate? How do you lead in relationship? Leadership skills can help reduce drama and increase fun, creativity and satisfaction in our relationships. Want to learn how to stand in your authority in intimacy? Don’t miss your chance, in the Intimate Authority Online Course, starting May, 18 2015!
I love that you end the post with the word “curiosity”. When I attended marriage therapy, she would repeatedly use some of the words I see in this and other posts: curiosity, listening, vulnerability. One of her cliches was that the headrest thing to do is to be in a relationship. As you point out in your example, both people are individuals — at least in a perfect world. Wouldn’t it be so easy if the other person were exactly like me? But what fun is that? And how would I grow? I suppose the best thing about confrontation is that I get to learn about the other person and myself. Of course, the hardest thing about confrontation is … confrontation. I also really like how you remind couples in this post to discuss After the wave of emotions subsides. Sometimes emotion is helpful, but when it comes to conflict or confrontation, I can’t imagine any scenario in which it can be healthy. After the (negative) emotion subsides, plan a time to talk. If I’m downstairs watching the game and it’s the middle of the 9th inning, even if we are both calm, it is probably not the best time for me to talk or listen. But I would have a few seconds to respond to this question: “I would like to talk about what you said earlier. Can we schedule some time before my meeting tomorrow at noon?” Hard to do, but better than expecting me to be my best as I’m watching the game in the 9th.
Thanks so much for your comment. You bring SUCH an important point. Time and place are also major factors in healthy conflict. Curiosity, listening, vulnerability . . . cornerstones of communication that works. I appreciate you sharing your experience, wisdom and perspective!
I find it extremely interesting that if you are trying to talk about communication you are calling it how to fight the good fight…..
When I hear the dialogue between Ann and Ed – I hear that both of them are coming with some beliefs, triggers and agendas.
There is blame, shame and guilt and mistrust.
Maybe if they both had each others back there would not be such a break down.
I believe there needs to be a deeper conversation between the two that has to place from the heart—before they start their negotiating or fighting the good fight…as you put it… if the trust is not there, if the heart is not there…..this relationship will not work…
Communication is a complicated skill because we bring our stories and our narratives to everything we do.
Trust and Heart are the foundation of success.
Good to see you here with your perspective on fighting and communication. Communication is complicated, and beliefs, triggers and agendas consistently make their way into the dialogues of the most sophisticated communicators. What I notice about good teams and functional couples, is not that they don’t fight: it’s that they know how to fight well, hence the title of the trilogy.
It would be nice to surround ourselves with people who consistently evoked trust and warmth, but alas, this is rare and not particularly useful if we are interested in moving beyond our limited ways of relating.
Conversations from the heart cannot take place until the agitation of the mind has cooled. As you suggest, blame and shame will triumph otherwise. I recommend negotiation as a tool because it helps us focus on a desired outcome. It can be so easy to get spun up in hurt feelings, that what really needs to be communicated about them, or in spite of them, escapes us.
Thanks again for your wisdom.