Here’s some basic, but valuable, information from research by Smith, 2002, and Henderson, 2010, about how best to talk to one another, especially about the difficult stuff.
I found some of this a bit surprising.
When you are negotiating with someone even an intimate other, it’s best to sit across from each other and face one another. I kind of like side-by-side myself, when it’s with Lisa, my partner, but I guess that’s for when there’s no real disagreement to be resolved. If there’s a third person acting as mediator, the two people negotiating sit face-to-face and the mediator sits to the side.
If you are hyperventilating and about to go nuclear, that is probably not the best time to begin a negotiation. Do what you must to calm down. A walk. A prayer. Some time alone.
You will get better results if you are negotiating about something that has more time rather than less before the change or new behavior will begin. So, it’s better to talk about and settle the details of that summer vacation months in advance, rather than the week before the vacation starts.
Negotiating face-to-face is better than on the phone or by email or text, BUT if you can’t do it face-to-face, then the further away you are from one another the better!
If you know you don’t have the nerve to break up face-to-face-- YOU COWARD! --are you supposed to go to India and send a text to your jilted other back in California? Not sure what to make of that one, though it seems separation by space and/or time can help keep the emotional brain from becoming over-active.
Listen, really listen, more than you speak. Yes, I know this sounds absolutely god-like, given the depths of the injustice you’ve suffered, but you can do it.
Look for the win-win rather than the me-me. Give a little to get a little, can often get both of you what you really want.
A lot of us have been turned on to the power of “I” statements when we have difficulties to negotiate with others. We know that, “I feel unappreciated when I am asked to work late and no one says thanks afterwards,” works much better than, “You never, ever, appreciate anything I do around here, ever!”
Start your sentences with “I” and share how you feel in response to what happened. And then state specifically what you want or need. “I feel disappointed and angry when you don’t show up for lunch. If you can’t make it, please call me at least two hours in advance to let me know. Thanks.”
Surprisingly, “I” statements come in handy even when you’re dishing out the good stuff like compliments. Turns out it’s a lot easier for most people to digest, “I like the way you cook,” rather than, “You are a good cook.” This is important, because hearing and taking in the good stuff makes it easier to hear the hard stuff.
Of course, play fair. No attacking. “You are a flaming idiot,” is not a helpful way to begin a conversation.
No defending. “You know how busy I am at work!” is probably not a good opening response to why you did not show up at your wedding.
No hogging all the air. If your opponent drops to the ground because you have used up all the oxygen in the room that does not count as a win for your side.
And only one issue at a time, please.