Negotiation and Persuasion in Personal Relationships
In personal and romantic relationships, just as in other interpersonal relationships, there are times when the two of you will have different goals and wishes.
Negotiation and persuasion skills are therefore essential to make sure that you can find either a compromise or a better way forward that addresses both people’s needs.
This is not just true of romantic relationships, but also of other personal and family relationships.
If you have children, you will increasingly need to negotiate and persuade as they grow up—and doing so is also essential to help them develop these skills. This page discusses techniques and principles for negotiating and persuading under these circumstances.
Asking for Help
You may be able to get others to do what you want simply by asking them.
Surprisingly often, especially if what you want is not in direct conflict with what they want, or it is small enough, people will do it.
There are also ways to ask that are more effective.
In his book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray argued that men and women used language very differently, and that women often used the ‘wrong’ language to ask men to do things. He noted that women often said:
He argued that the only answer to that was ‘yes’, because it was physically possible to do it. This left men with no option to refuse the task. Instead, he suggested, you should try asking:
“Would you…?” or
“Would you mind…?”
This left an option to say “No, not right now, but I’ll do it later”, or “I’d prefer not to, as it aggravates my asthma/bad back” and would therefore be more acceptable.
He suggested that this very small alteration can make a surprisingly big difference to relationships, even after many years.
It also helps to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when you are asking for help, or when someone does something for you. It is surprisingly easy to take your partner for granted—and important not to do so.
What NOT to do
As you might expect, it is important not to try to persuade others to do what you want by either nagging or shouting.
Nagging is repeatedly asking someone to do something, or implying that you expect them to do it.
Shouting is raising your voice in some way, and often, but not always, is associated with the use of orders (direct commands that suggest that you have a right to expect something to be done).
Both these are bad news, because they both imply in some way that you are in a position of authority over the person you are asking. Whether they are your partner or one of your children, this is not a good position to take.
- If your partner, your relationship should be based on equality. Everyone has the right not to be ordered around, and to be able to refuse to do something.
- If your children, you are likely to be teaching them (inadvertently) that it is OK to shout if you don’t get what you want first time, and also that you can order someone around if you are in a position of authority. A moment’s thought will tell you that this is probably not the life-lesson you wish to pass on.
Negotiating Skills for Couples and Families
From the moment that you start a relationship, whether with your partner or a child, you will start to need negotiating skills.
This is because suddenly there are two of you with opinions and rights. Your goals will not always line up, and you will need to negotiate a suitable outcome.
Our pages on Negotiating Skills describe two types of negotiation: win–lose and win–win
Win–lose negotiation might best be thought of as union-style negotiation, or more simply as the used-car salesman technique. It is, effectively, haggling.
Each party is trying to do the best they can for themselves, and have no concerns about the ongoing relationship. It is possible that both parties may emerge satisfied, but it is more likely that one will have a nagging suspicion that they have been defeated in some way: that they could have done better for themselves.
This is bad enough when you’re buying a used car, but in a relationship it is a disaster. There, the ongoing relationship needs to be more important than the outcome of any one negotiation.
For more about why this matters, you may find it helpful to read our pages on Transactional Analysis, and also on Game Theory (the section on ‘repeated games’ will be particularly useful).
This is not to say, however, that you need to ‘lose’ for the sake of the relationship—although from time to time that may be necessary if your partner feels particularly strongly about something. Instead, it suggests that you should try to create a win–win situation.
Win–win negotiation involves working together to create a more constructive situation, one where both of you are happy with the outcome. It requires you to talk together as adults, and not where one of you takes on a more ‘parental’, authority role.
It also requires openness about what really matters to you, and a willingness to listen to what matters to your partner.
A joint effort
Win–win negotiation does require effort from both of you. It is not always easy.
So what can you do if your partner insists on taking the ‘union approach’, and talking about ‘bottom lines’ and ‘non-negotiables’, always wanting to ‘win’?
First, don’t fall into the trap of responding the same way.
Our page on Transactional Analysis explains how one remark sets up the next, and the importance of ‘steering’ people by the way that you say things. If you can model what you want to achieve, by sharing what is important to you, and why, you can start to set up the right sort of environment for win–win negotiation.
If you feel that you are always losing, and having to back down for the sake of the relationship, you may need to read our pages on Assertiveness. It is important to avoid being passive, and starting to think that you have no options.
Instead, you need to make clear what you want too. A relationship is a two-way street, and the sooner both of you learn that, the stronger your relationship will be, and the longer it will last.