The skills we teach at The Black Swan Group are designed to help people like you achieve better business outcomes.
But our clients can also use our skills to strengthen their relationships with friends, colleagues, and even their own families.
With that in mind, let’s look at five negotiation skills you can use to build stronger bonds in your personal life.
1. Listening at a Higher Level
The Black Swan Group teaches clients that there are five levels of listening.
Most people only listen at Level 1 (i.e., listening for the gist of what somebody’s saying and then re-focussing on their inner voice) or Level 2 (i.e., listening to rebut what the other party says either to argue how they’re wrong or how you can ‘fix’ what you’ve determined their problem is).
If you want to strengthen personal relationships, you need to be listening at Level 3 (i.e., listening for the other side’s internal logic). At this level, you’re trying to figure out the why behind what the other side is saying.
Ultimately, people want to be heard and understood. If you’re not listening at a high enough level, you won’t hear what they’re really saying, making it impossible to truly understand their point of view.
On the flip side, by listening at a higher level, you can discover why your loved one’s perspective makes sense to them—the first step toward understanding them on a deeper level.
2. Tone of Voice
Clients often express difficulty in communicating with their kids. When I’m approached with this topic, I always ask them how they talk to their kids. It’s important to think of this from the child’s perspective.
When a problem arises and you are very assertive (loud, angry, or aggressive) while discussing it, your kids will go into survival mode. Their amygdala is activated which knocks the prefrontal cortex offline leaving them unable to process what you’re saying. This is why they repeat the same behavior the next day, which in turn makes you angrier. This vicious cycle is damaging.
If your goal as a parent is correcting behavior, the last thing you should do is attempt that correction after being assertive with them. Instead, wait until you have both calmed down and then explain what’s dangerous or wrong about what they’re doing.
The same idea also applies to a spouse. If you get into an argument and voices are raised, the other side shuts down immediately. (Unless, of course, they yell back, making the situation even worse as then you are both activated and neither of you are thinking clearly.)
When you’re emotional, logic is gone and rational thinking is out the window. If you want to improve your relationships, use a calm tone when talking to your loved ones about sensitive topics. Otherwise, you won’t get anything accomplished.
3. Quick 2+1™
Once, a client approached me and said she felt as if she was unable to communicate effectively with her teenage son. I suggested that she use Labels instead of asking questions. She reported back that now she can’t get him to shut up!
Instead of asking whether the school day went well, read the dynamics and use a label to describe what you see. You can say something like: It seems like school went well today. They’ll voluntarily share information as long as you don’t ask directly. If your child comes home from school in a bad mood, you might say something like: It looks like today was a tough one. Once you’ve dropped your Label, use dynamic silence to give them space to think and respond.
Either way, they’ll feel less interrogated and more inclined to engage in conversation.
4. No-Oriented Questions™
When you ask questions designed to elicit an affirmative response from your counterpart, you’re forcing them to commit. For better results, you should design your questions to encourage your counterpart to say no, protecting their autonomy and making them feel safe.
As every parent knows too well, no is every toddler’s favorite word. They’re already hardwired to use it regularly, so cater to that: Would it be too much to ask for you to clean up your room before you turn on the X-box? A lot of the time, kids don’t even realize they’re committing to something when they say no.
The same idea holds true with spouses. If you don’t feel like cooking, use a No-Oriented Question™ instead: Would you be against me picking up takeout tonight?
5. Accusation Audit®
In any conversation, you can never go wrong using an Accusation Audit® to defuse the negatives before you make your ultimate ask.
I had an Australian coaching client who was having problems with her son. Because kids can’t live without their cell phones these days, she used that knowledge to her advantage when her son asked permission to go to a party.
You’re not going to like what I have to say. [Pause]. You’re going to be mad at me when I tell you what has to happen for me to say yes...[Pause]. If you want to go to the party you have to clean your room first.
When the mother began her Accusation Audit, the son’s mind went to the worst-case scenario: getting his phone taken away. When he learned that he had to clean his room before he could go, he was so relieved to still have his phone that he happily complied with her request.
You can use this skill on your spouse too. For example, imagine you’re stuck at work and won’t be able to make it home in time for family dinner. You might say something like this: You’re going to be disgusted with what I’m about to say. [Pause] You will probably want to jump through the phone and wring my neck. [Pause]. I’m so sorry. I’m going to be later than I expected.
What happens if your spouse notices you’re speaking in a new way and thinks something is off?
Use an Accusation Audit again: You may feel like I’m being different. [Pause] You’re probably suspicious that I’m up to something. [Pause]. I’m trying to improve my communication skills. I’m working on listening at a higher level and staying curious so that I can better understand what the people around me need. Then explain what you are doing and ask them to work with you to help you get better. This has worked with several of my coaching clients and their relationships improved as a result.
As with any of our skills, practice makes perfect. It’s not like riding a bike. It’s more like learning a foreign language. If you do the work and get your reps in, using the skills will become second nature, and you’ll improve relationships in all areas of your life.
Ready to continue sharpening your negotiation skills? Download our free infographic, “The Top 3 Negotiation Mistakes,” to learn what behaviors to avoid.