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The New Front Line – Negotiating at Home

Richard Savage

I love being at home. I love being with my family. But ALL day, EVERY day? And then I reflected that one of the most important things we teach as professional negotiators is to ask questions, good questions, and then most critically, listen to the answers. In fact, the ability to listen is probably the ultimate negotiator's asset!

So, I asked my wife if she had anything she might like to share from the current experience of lockdown that might help her (and others), and that might promote a more harmonious atmosphere at home. The response was let’s say comprehensive, speedy and robust!

Darling – as promised, see below!

  1. Plan what to eat in advance (when you’re not ‘hangry’) to avoid tension before mealtimes.  If you can’t agree, concede if you got your own way on the previous meal or change the elements of the dish to suit everyone
  2. Need to do a conference call?  Prepare in advance; ask (don’t tell) the household if you can have some quiet during this period
  3. Usage of space – each person needs a private area where their rules apply
  4. If you have teenagers or young adults (or grumpy husbands for that matter) who are struggling, don’t ignore it or fight it.  Ask the question…sometimes all we need is an opening
  5. Have a view and propose it, this also goes for a decision on meals, TV choices or who does the chores – ‘I don’t mind’ is NOT helpful!
  6. If you’ve agreed on the rules on anything – puzzle doing, tidying up, privacy – stick to it.  But as times move on circumstances change and you must be flexible to this
  7. Walk away (as far as possible) from a debate you’re going to lose because nothing is gained from fighting with an angry/emotional/hungry child/partner/flatmate. Let the situation calm then come back with the same proposal but finessed to reflect their needs
  8. Choose a time window for meals (often a young vs. older area of combat) - rather than dinner at 7 or 9 have a window 7.30-8.30 so all eaters have been accommodated
  9. You cook and I’ll wash up
  10. What to watch on TV?  Discuss in advance to avoid a fight over the remote whilst dinner is getting cold.  Plan the week so each person gets to choose.  Make a game out of it (film club, top 10 classics, etc)
  11. Who tidies up?  A common battleground.  What may have been the rules during ‘peacetime’ no longer apply.  And it’s not as easy as ‘it’s your mess so you tidy it up’.  This encourages an ‘every man for himself’ scenario which is unhealthy.  Mess impacts on everyone in the house, but we can’t all be as tidy as the tidiest person.  Negotiate with the awareness that some may have to lower their standards (in the short term) whilst others will have to step up. (I know exactly who this is aimed at! Ed.)
  12. Make a cleaning rota – one agreed by all
  13. Encourage ‘trading’ in chores – switch one you hate for 2 you hate less!  Don’t like emptying the dishwasher?  Take the rubbish out instead.
  14. Be considerate.  Give people as much personal space as possible and respect their privacy.  Isolation doesn’t change these rules, however bored you are.
  15. Be generous.  Others are more likely to be generous in return.  Let someone watch their favourite programme, clear the room for a conference call or do a little extra washing up – this will be reciprocated at a later date
  16. Laundry.  This is not done by a fairy and everyone can help, even if they haven’t in the past. (See previous note. Ed.)  Small children can match socks and there’s plenty of time to learn how to iron. Traditional roles must adapt to new circumstances.

The response has stimulated some lively conversations and quite a few laughs. But there is a serious point here. If we listen more to the other side, if we think about their needs, motives, priorities and frustrations – we can negotiate a far more valuable ‘deal’ for both parties. And that applies as much in the commercial world as it does at home.

Got to dash, off to fold some laundry. She’s not called Mrs Savage for nothing!

Check out our NEGOTIATING BEGINS AT HOME eBooklet. It features 7 top tips for a conflict-free lockdown.

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