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Richard Savage
© Adobe Stock | nadia_snopek

I have just been the dutiful Dad and delivered the youngest one, Grace, back to Bristol with her boyfriend – both graduating students of the university there.

They have decided to both stay on for a year (coincidence? I think not) and so it is the annual task of moving into a new flat (facilitated by yours truly) that this story is about.

Xav, the charming, 6’2” Austrian (this is relevant) boyfriend was dropping his stuff to his new flat and also finding out which room he had been allocated in the democratic (classic students) random, straw picking, coin tossing allocation they had agreed on. In the flat there are 3 reasonable sized double rooms off a corridor away from the kitchen/living area and one tiny ‘cupboard’ immediately adjacent to it. And guess what? Yup, poor old Xav got the tiny room.

A number of issues with this.

  1. He is very long. The room is very short.
  2. It is right next to the living area (in a student house) and the room has paper-thin walls.
  3. Xav is not a late-night partying lunatic (phew).
  4. Xav is doing a Masters in something really complicated requiring considerable amounts of studying.
  5. Xav is sad about his predicament.

“You’ve got to help, Dad” my little princess insisted, in a way that somehow made this all my fault. This part-time, unpaid, negotiation consultant role, for anyone that reads my blogs, is becoming a familiar scene. Now extended beyond the family bubble to various additional appendages (albeit lovely ones).

I put on my negotiation cape and reflected on the situation. Firstly, how did he get into this situation? Ah yes, through the insanely fair process of what is effectively arbitration. In this case, letting fate (assuming no one cheated) decide on who goes where. Big mistake. Whilst in arbitration a decision gets made – that decision is then taken out of your control. So, what can be done? And what motivation might there be from any of the others to accommodate a change in plan?

The first thing we did was to consider the situation. And ask my favourite negotiation question: “Under what circumstances could Xav view this situation as acceptable?” That stimulated some head-scratching and some creative thinking – ideas are my favourite thing! What about some form of compensation shared between the other flatmates, proportionate to the allocated floor space? What about an agreement to have Xav’s desk in the main living area, to give him enough room to at least stand on one foot when getting ready for bed? And more space to study during the day when everyone was out and about? And a curfew in the evening, at an agreed time, to keep any disturbance to a minimum? What about rotating the rooms every 4 months so everyone has a 12-week break from failing to swing the cat?

A common reason to negotiate is when there is an aggrieved party. Our advice is that if you are the one with the complaint you should make a proposal. Don’t just moan and whine about it. More often than not a carefully considered, realistic and fair proposal will prevail. And that, armed with our fistful of ideas is what he did.

If fact he went one better and used what we call the Either/Or technique. He presented his dilemma with the proposed alternative. Instead of saying “it’s not fair,” he suggested there may be a couple of options to resolve this conflict.

Xav suggested that either they swap rooms every few months….ultimate fairness OR… that those in bigger rooms make a contribution to compensate him for having a smaller space, as well as accept his working space in the main room and agree to some sort of curfew in the evenings so he can sleep undisturbed. Giving people a couple of options focusses the recipient(s) on alternative solutions to resolve the problem, rather than the conflict itself. It’s effective – and as it happened it worked this time too.

The room swapping idea was greeted with a “not before hell freezes over” response but the shared contribution and use of space was accepted by all. Deal done. Xav’s happy. Which means Grace is happy. And that means I’m happy. Classic Dad.


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