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How to Negotiate With Loved Ones

By |November 12, 2018

No matter how skilled and practiced you are as a negotiator, when it comes to dealing with the people you love, it’s easy to get stuck. The same negotiation skills and techniques that you’ve practiced on countless other occasions can somehow fall short or backfire in ways that you never saw coming. If the basic communication skills required to negotiate a business deal and reach an agreement with a loved one are the same, then where do most of us go wrong? We’ve outlined five reasons why negotiating with a loved one is difficult, as well as how to shift your approach.


1. Our Expectations Are Exponentially Higher

In a business deal, your expectations for your counterpart are fairly low. In fact some of us make a point of being skeptical early on and don't give our counterpart the benefit of the doubt.  We expect our counterpart to know their business, but we don’t hold them accountable for much beyond that. On the flip side, they expect us to be knowledgeable in our area of expertise, but they may still spend the first few interactions sizing us up.

When you feel connected to someone on a deeper emotional level, you naturally hold them to higher standards. You’re accustomed to spelling out what you need from coworkers and strangers, but you expect your loved ones to already know and understand you in a variety of ways. Because love is tied to these unique expectations, it’s easy to get offended when they aren’t met or when your more subtle, nonverbal cues aren’t intuited in the way you intended.

Even with loved ones, it’s next to impossible to know exactly what someone is feeling without telepathy. Being an effective negotiator doesn’t mean knowing everything from the get-go, but it does mean changing your approach to account for those expectations. Opening with calibrated questions can come off as insensitive and confirm their negative assumptions. Instead, focus on demonstrating an understanding of what you know—that they’re upset, that you’ve failed to meet their expectations, and that you’ve let them down in that regard. Once you’ve re-established understanding and trust, it’s much easier to gain influence.


2. Logic Is Harder to Tolerate

When you’re on the defensive, it’s natural to try to justify your perspective, actions, or solutions by outlining your logical thought process. For example, you think your loved one should stop smoking because of x, y, and z. Although falling back on logic may help you feel more in control, logic can be hard to swallow coming from someone you’re close to. Oftentimes, we’re familiar with our loved one’s logic—we’ve heard their reasons before and hearing them again isn’t likely to change how we feel in the moment.

Furthermore, when emotions and expectations are inflated, it’s easy to interpret a logical response as an excuse or a complete rejection of our feelings. Logic undercuts our desire for understanding, thereby widening the emotional divide and adding insult to injury.

It’s no secret that effective negotiations and relationships are built on empathy, but channeling tactical empathy in emotionally charged situations demands extra effort. When you’re negotiating with a loved one, focus your attention on slowing your reaction times and identifying the emotions that your counterpart is expressing. Seek to demonstrate understanding and dissolve resistance using labels and mirrors, rather than attempting to win them over with logic.

3. We’re Quicker to React

We’re much more sensitive to the affect, tone, and words of our loved ones. We know all their habits and tells, and we’re quick to make incorrect hypothesis about the present based on past experience. That heightened awareness can cause our emotional register to skyrocket from 0 to 100 at the slightest provocation—to view tiny nuances in behavior or communication as monumental signs.

To compensate for this heightened sensitivity, it’s exceptionally important to give your loved ones the space to vent and permission to say “No.” By listening with the goal of understanding rather than focusing on your next response, you’ll help curb the impulse to interrupt and be more likely to gain the insight you need to communicate effectively. Consciously altering your affect by doing things like using your "late-night FM DJ" tone and opening your palms will help you control your response under the heightened emotional pressure.

4. We’re More Focused on Ourselves

In some ways, negotiating is like playing cards. If you stare at the cards in your own hand, you’re going to miss out on a lot of vital information needed to succeed. The best players know that their cards aren’t going to change, so they focus their attention on the other players and the cards that are being played. This makes them better informed and quicker to adapt under pressure.

In the same vein, professional football players that are hyper-focused on the mechanics of their body struggle to perform under pressure. They forget that throwing the perfect pass doesn’t decrease the chances of interception.

The same is true in negotiations. If you’re focused on your own emotions, you’re inevitably going to miss out on key information that your counterpart is giving you and limit your chances of success. In emotionally charged situations, it’s human instinct to turn your attention inward. By consciously shifting your attention back on your environment and your counterpart, you’ll gain greater insight and improve your situational awareness. As an added bonus, when you’re consumed with analyzing external cues, you’ll have less time to focus on your own emotions and your practiced negotiation skills will fall into place more naturally.

5. We Get Ahead of Ourselves

It’s human nature to avoid discomfort. In fact, that’s the primary reason some people choose to sit in the quicksand of a failing relationship rather than endure the pain of digging themselves out. The cliche, “the devil known is better than the devil unknown” may be true, but taking an investigative approach to communication or obsessing over terms isn't always the best approach.  In some situations, there are improvements that need to happen and repairs that need to be made to a relationship before a negotiation can even begin. If your preoccupation with the terms of a negotiation have threatened the strength of the underlying relationship, then you’re putting the cart before the horse.

Every negotiation—especially personal ones—require a foundation of connection and understanding. Until that connection has been mended, even the best negotiating skills aren’t going to get you anywhere. If your loved one won’t talk to you or if you’re not making progress with your negotiation, back up and focus on what needs to happen to repair the relationship. By reducing the strain on the relationship, you’ll create the opportunity for an effective negotiation to occur down the road.

To hone your negotiating skills to be more effective in a variety of contexts, learn more about negotiation coaching with the Black Swan Group.