With families and friends across the UK facing an ongoing lockdown period as the nation battles to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak, tensions are running high in many households. As a global negotiation and communication expert and CEO of Huthwaite International, I’ve advised on some of the world’s most high profile deals, so here’s my candid advice on how to overcome disagreements and keep the peace during isolation.
One scroll on your social media feeds will tell you that during lockdown, families nationwide are starting to feel daunted by the prospect of being in isolation for days on end. With such stringent measures, come natural anxieties; from having to bite your tongue over the milk lid being left on the side (again), to tripping over your partner's shoes. The little things can trigger big melt downs.
Whilst some disagreements are inevitable under such unique circumstances, by implementing proven negotiation techniques, families and friends alike can overcome the tricky times and spend the lockdown period in – relative – peace. The secret is to perfect your communication skills, and negotiate well!
Often when we think of ‘negotiating’, we think of being in a tense sales pitch or a high-pressure meeting discussing terms of business – but this isn’t always the case. In fact, we negotiate constantly in our daily lives, from discussions over who's emptying the bin, to who's cooking dinner. We all have some experience negotiating. The goal of all negotiations is to have discussions that lead to an agreement benefiting all parties involved or failing that, an agreeable compromise. So, if you find yourself in a situation where something of this nature is taking place, then you’re negotiating without even realising it.
It’s likely that, in almost every household, chores have caused some kind of friction at some point in the past couple of weeks. Debates often occur when one person feels as though they are putting in more effort than another and this is when a negotiation may take place. For example, you may find that your housemate or partner approaches you and proposes dividing the housework out more fairly. They may suggest that you do upstairs and they take the downstairs area. You’ll find yourself discussing the jobs that need doing and then reaching an agreement as to who will take ownership of which tasks.
An effective agreement, of course, will come down to both parties effectively arguing that their specific chores are of equal importance, and likely to achieve a similar positive outcome for the household. Here it is useful to examine a key lesson in business negotiation; a win-win is not fifty-fifty. In our training, we would want our clients to achieve the best possible deal for them that still allows a win for the other side. In this case, it could be carrying out the chores you most want to do, while giving the other party the reassurance that you are doing your fair share.
THE NETFLIX NIGHTMARE
We’ve all been there: you fancy watching a drama, your partner prefers sci-fi and the kids want to watch endless YouTube videos involving a cartoon pig. Arriving at a consensus can be hard going! Everyday negotiations are also likely to take place when opting on how to spend your downtime – and at the moment, this is something many people have in abundance.
In the world of business negotiations, we can bring this back to the importance of ‘keeping all the balls in the air until the end’. However tempting it might be, avoid settling issues as you go, particularly the minor issues with your little ones (i.e. timings or length of time a programme is allowed on the TV for). The risk is that you discard your levers (something that costs you less than the value the other party places on it - or example an extra five minutes of TV before dinner is of higher value to your kids, than it is to you) so the negotiation comes down to a single-issue confrontation, with no other issues available to break the deadlock. You need to be able to juggle all the issues so that you can bring any of them back into play at any time before the deal is concluded, Until the end, settle issues provisionally.
If you have young children, you may find yourself having multiple discussions around what time they go to bed. Often you will find yourself bargaining with them; allowing them to stay up half an hour later if all their homework is completed, for example.
Although it may not feel like it, these conversations are very much negotiations – as both parties discuss their thoughts, propose an idea and then reach an agreement. In an effective business negotiation, this approach has parallels with the idea that you should ‘never concede, but trade’ whereby both parties will avoid ‘giving’ something (i.e. a late bedtime) without ‘getting’ something in return (i.e. a confirmation to tidy up)). When you need to move from any stated position, make a conditional offer such as "I might be able to move on X, if you are prepared to move on Y." This is particularly important towards the end of a negotiation.
Another business negotiation lesson, which is especially relevant when negotiating with children, is the idea that ‘logic is not persuasive’. Skilled business negotiators don't browbeat the other party by using long chains of logical arguments (such as ‘you’ll be too tired to do anything’ or ‘you have to get up early in the morning’). They have only one or two key reasons for any particular position they adopt. They do however prepare lots of smart questions to probe the other side's stance with the objective of creating doubt in the validity of that stance, e.g. “Would you prefer Mum/Dad to be looking after you downstairs now, if it means we can’t get ready to do the nice thing we promised to do tomorrow?”
REWARDS AND TREATS
Treating ourselves and the ones around us is something we all do, often without realising it. While on the surface these are generally simple gestures, they could in fact, be seen as negotiations.
As we spend more and more time with people in our household, even the most straightforward gesture i.e. making lunch for your partner or housemate, can result in a negotiation, which if handled badly, can turn sour. For example, an offer to make lunch, may be responded to with a further request i.e. ‘can I have a cup of tea with that please?’. Here you are entering into a negotiation. To avoid feeling frustrated or as if you are putting more effort in than the others in your household, counter it with a request that you would like and value in return. i.e. ‘Sure, but can you clear the dishes and look after dinner this evening please?’.
In these instances, there are usually a multitude of different elements or value-adds that can be brought into a discussion, whether that’s bargaining over chores or committing to offer a treat in return. This brings us back to an important business negotiation lesson; a good deal is a creative deal. When planning, skilled negotiators generate a wide range of creative options in considering how each negotiable issue might be settled. They look 'outside the deal' for extra value – in this case, what you can get in addition and return for making lunch and a cup of tea!
Ultimately, knowing when you’re entering into a negotiation – no matter how trivial - is key. Regardless of whether it’s with your children, your partner, neighbor or housemate, by recognising what is happening, and understanding the appropriate response, you can start to conclude more effective deals that leave everyone happy. And finally, it’s important to remember, 'no deal' is better than a bad deal.This seems obvious, but it isn’t always in a family or home setting. . It is only through careful understanding and preparation, that skilled negotiators can recognise a bad deal, and walk away from it. Stay safe and good luck!
We love hearing from our membership community about how they’re doing during lockdown. If you’d like to get in touch with us for your coping mechanisms, anecdotes, or article suggestions, email us here.
Check out our other Covid-19 related articles on our hub, Leading Through Uncertainty.
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