Negotiations are the absolute lifeblood of relationships. Consciously or unconsciously, we put negotiations into play in every relationship and in every family. The process goes on constantly. You negotiate the rules, the power distribution, the standards, the goals, the patterns, the practice and the rhythms of your family.
In family negotiations, you're not looking for a quick give and take. You're in it for the long haul. You should always negotiate from the high-road position, but most especially with your children so that they come away with their self-respect intact. When kids feel that their parents listen and take their concerns into account, it boosts their self-confidence and self-esteem. When you negotiate properly with your child, each of you should come away with the attitude, "I can support what you want because this isn't your deal, it's our deal."
Your job as a parent is to set the boundaries, direct the important choices and instill the values and morals you deem important for your child. At the same time, when involved in any negotiations, you should always strive to listen to your children's concerns so win, lose or draw, they at least know they've been heard. Children who feel they have a voice, feel they have power. Children who feel they have power, feel safe and secure.
The following are key steps, techniques or principles for successful negotiations:
1. Narrow the area of dispute.
It can be very helpful to first identify everything the two sides agree on. Oftentimes, we make the mistake of thinking we're totally at cross purposes with the other side, when, in fact, the areas of dispute are rather isolated. By identifying what you can agree on, positive energy is injected into the situation and some bonding occurs. For example, say your child wants a one o'clock curfew instead of a midnight curfew. You could simply say no, or you can discuss it openly, identifying some things you both agree on. Maybe you can begin by saying, "Can we agree that the number one priority here is for you to be safe?" Once that's agreed on, you'll have a starting point for your negotiation.
2. Find out what they really want.
Your child may say, "I want to stay out until one o'clock," but there is a need or desire behind the request. What does your child hope to accomplish by staying out? It may be that all the cool kids are able to stay out until one o'clock, and she doesn't want to lose her "cool" status. Whatever the itch is, you need to determine whether there is a safer and more mutually agreeable method for satisfying it. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and if you're creative, you can come up with an alternative way to get your child what he/she is really motivated to have.
3. Work hard to find a middle ground in which both sides give a little and get a little.
Maybe there are some limited risks you're willing to take, and maybe there are some concessions your child is willing to make. The potential problem with negotiations is that they can degenerate into ultimatums and hardheadedness. You get nowhere, forging only resentment and rebellion. So, look for that middle ground, such as in the curfew example above. One a.m. socializing might be a lot more palatable if it occurs at someone's nearby home.
4. Be specific in your agreement and the outcome of the negotiations.
If there are behaviors you feel are important for the child to exhibit, describe them in detail so it's easy to measure whether there's been compliance. Don't simply tell your teenager, "I want you to be more respectful to me." State specific examples like, "When I say take out the garbage, don't say 'Later.' Say ‘OK,' and do it immediately."
5. Make negotiated agreements shorter term in the beginning and longer term after a period of adjustment.
You might negotiate a new curfew for two weeks, and agree that it will be revisited at the end of that period to see how things are going. Then, you might want to revisit the policy in 30 days, and then six months. Probably the most effective approach in negotiating with your children is to appeal to their sense of greed. Children typically don't take a long view of things. Remember, they want what they want, when they want it, and they want it right now. If you want to motivate them for change, then appeal to that hedonistic impulse. Their greed doesn't make them evil. They're just not yet socialized to the point of putting others' interests ahead of their own. So use that to your advantage in negotiations by catering to their short-term vision and building long-term behavior patterns.
Adapted from Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family by Dr. Phil McGraw.