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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Agreement: A Key Element in Negotiating in Couples' Relationships and in Everyday Life

Power struggles derail many assertive negotiations.  In such a struggle, the two negotiators each try to win.  

As in a child's tug of war, no one wins a power struggle.

You remember tug of war, I'm sure.  Usually the loser is pulled into the mud as the winner tugs him/her over the line.  And how does the winner fare?  The winner usually also falls flat on his/her back with the effort.  Everyone ends up hurt in some way or another.

Finding an Area of Agreement:

The most effective way to avoid the power struggle is to find an area of agreement.

Here is a typical marital power struggle:

Susan:   "Sam, are you going to wash the dishes?"
Sam: "I did them last night and I want to watch the Braves game."
Susan: "I really had a hard day and I'm exhausted.  I don't want to do the
            dishes.  I just want to sit down and put my feet up."
Sam: "Well, I'm not going to wash all those dishes."
Susan: "Well, I'm not either, so there."

These two are in a power struggle, each trying not to "lose."  At this point, you are probably wondering, "Can this marriage be saved?"

If these two had the agenda of arriving at an area of agreement, then the whole discussion could have been simpler and would not have turned into a power struggle.

Susan:   "Sam, there sure are a lot of dirty dishes tonight."
Sam: "There really are and I don't want to do them....I want to watch the
Braves game."
Susan:    "Sounds like neither one of us wants to do them."
Sam: "I sure can agree with that."
Susan:   "Well, since we both agree that neither of us wants to do the dishes, how can we get this awful task over with so you can watch the game and I can sit down and put my feet up?"
Sam: "Maybe we could load the dishwasher together and then do the pots and pans tomorrow."
Susan: "That would work for me - let's get started."

In the above version, Susan and Sam work for an agreement rather than trying to win a power struggle.

Walk around the first roadblock to reach agreement

If finding an area of agreement seems difficult, see if you can go around the roadblock and start the search for agreement several steps into the argument.

Years ago in my hometown of Natchez, Mississippi, the library board and my father, Dr. Clifford Tillman, a member of the board, decided that Natchez needed a new library.  When the idea of a new library was proposed to the citizens, a power struggle ensued: did the town need a new library or not?  

The idea of building of a new library "lost" the power struggle.

My father waited several months for the furor to die down.  Then he wrote a letter to the editor of the Natchez Democrat, proposing that the new library for Natchez should be built behind what was then St. Mary's Cathedral (a building over 100 years old) in Confederate Memorial Park.  All of the ancient trees in the park would have to be cut down to accomplish this.

A huge discussion began among the citizens as to where the new library should be built - certainly the trees should not be cut down!  So the process began of reaching an agreement about WHERE the new library should be built and the issue of SHOULD Natchez have a new library never resurfaced.  
A Natchez citizen donated land and Natchez now has a lovely library.

My father effectively skipped the step of whether Natchez should have a new library and thus avoided the power struggle.  The discussion he began centered on finding an area of agreement about the location of the new library.

Work toward agreement instead of working toward winning and your negotiations will go much better whether in your couple's relationship or in your work with others.

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