The Negotiation Process

The goal of negotiation is to arrive at a compromise solution that allows each party to get some of what he or she wants, but not everything that is wanted. This problem-solving procedure is based on certain rules of engagement.

In a negotiation process:

The parties agree that the purpose of the negotiation is to find a mutual solution rather than to justify any one person’s particular position. Too often, arguments continue because the parties insist on being right rather than ending the argument fairly.

An active listening process is used to ensure that each person feels “heard”. In a negotiation, each party makes his or her case through the use of simple statements that reflect the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. Restating and reflecting back the speaker’s main points reassures the speaker that the listener has really gotten the message.

The parties work together to define a “mutual” problem that incorporates each person’s individual concerns. In this step of the process, each person makes use of what the other party has told him or her to restate his or her individual problem in such a way that it includes the concerns of both parties.

Susan and John agreed that they had to rethink how they are dealing with evening responsibilities and how they are spending money.

The parties attempt to “brainstorm” possible solutions to the mutual problem. A short amount of time (say, 10 minutes) is set aside for brainstorming, during which each person lists as many solutions to the mutual problem as come to mind. Brainstorming requires the parties to be as creative as possible. The more ideas that are generated, the more likely it is that a mutually satisfying solution can be reached. No idea is a “bad” one, so nothing should be held back and each party should take pains not to criticize solutions offered by the other during this process.

Susan and John came up with a number of possibilities:

Get a “mother’s helper”Cut up all credit cardsJohn discontinues AA
Susan goes to Al-Anon meetingsGet John’s sister to babysitJohn goes to AA downtown
Lock up credit cardsSusan goes back to workCut back on all expenses
Susan starts exercisingSusan and John go on a “date”Get couples therapy
Reduce number of AA meetingsGet financial counselingKeep only one credit card

All ideas that are generated through brainstorming are reviewed. At this point, all ideas (even the odd ones) are examined with an eye toward their potential for resolving the mutual problem. The task here is to identify the three best solutions and to determine the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The following were Susan and John’s top three solutions: 1) John goes to AA downtown; 2) Susan goes to Al-Anon meetings; and 3) They restrict their credit card use.

The parties choose a solution. The chosen solution must be one that both parties can “live with,” even if it does not reflect the “heart’s desire” of either person.

John agreed to brown bag his lunch and to attend noontime AA meetings near his workplace three days a week. Susan agreed to attend one Al-Anon meeting on one of John’s nights at home and curtail her spending for unnecessary items. They cancelled all but one credit card and kept it at home to be used for “special” purchases that they agreed to talk about and plan for together.

Each person shares what he or she has learned from this process. A critical step that is often overlooked is the “rehashing” of what has been learned by each party. When each person shares what has been learned, each creates a memory of the process that will come in handy the next time an argument erupts.

John learned that in his eagerness to “follow the program,” he was being insensitive to his wife’s needs. He learned that when he was flexible about how he did what he had to do to stay sober, he could find a way of meeting both his needs and those of his wife. Susan, for her part, became more aware of her compulsion to spend when she was stressed and that she needed to understand better the family dynamics involved in alcoholism.