Negotiation skills are helpful in buying a car, agreeing to a contract at work, or deciding where to spend Christmas with your spouse. In each of these scenarios, the negotiation is before actually discussing the issue with someone else. Negotiation is at times, unavoidable. The goal of negotiation is to change your partner’s view on a mutual interest. Negotiation asks both parties, how can we get our needs met without sacrificing our relationship? A successful outcome means neither party feels cheated, manipulated, or taken advantage of.

When you are negotiating, it is because you both want different outcomes on the same issue. Remember the outcome is important to both parties. First, look at both sides of the argument. What is your evidence and what is your partner’s evidence? Make sure you are clear on what you want versus what your partner wants. Let’s incorporate the metaphor of an island and a peninsula (Smith, 2014). First, imagine you are an island. Talk about what you would want, what you would prefer if you weren’t considering anyone else’s feelings. Then, consider how your partner’s preferences affects your preferences. You begin to become a peninsula, bridging your partner’s wants with your wants. This helps clears things up, and can also catch misunderstandings of each other’s preferences. If your partner says, “Well, what I’d like to do is get married in the summer, but since you think it would be too hot, I guess I can wait until the fall,” that gives you the opportunity to jump in with, “Wait a sec, that wasn’t what I meant; I don’t think it would be too hot at all.” Be sure to demonstrate your thought process, or show your work. You need to explain how you arrived at the outcome. If you only share your end results, then you only talk about what you want as a peninsula and you don’t break it down into what you want as an island. This may muddle the outcome so neither party gets what they want.

When a conflict requiring negotiation arises, begin with the position that you each need validating. The RAVEN checklist helps you keep on track (McKay, Wood, & Brantley, 2010):

  • Relax. Accept conflict calmly. Take a deep breath before you say the next thing. Release tension as you exhale.
  • Avoid the aversive. Keep in mind the aversive strategies you might be tempted to use, and monitor what you say to avoid them.
  • Validate the other person’s need or concern. Focus on the fair, mutually agreeable outcome where both people can get some of their needs met.
  • Examine your values. How do you want to be treated in a relationship – how do you want to treat others? What do you want to achieve, not only regarding the conflict, but in this relationship?
  • Neutral voice. Keep anger and contempt out of your voice.

Keep in mind these guidelines as you work through the negotiation process. Take turns offering solutions to the problem. Each solution should meet your values, while also addressing some of the other person’s needs. Remember it is okay to ask what the other person’s needs are if you are unsure. If no solution is in sight, it’s time to compromise. Here are some classic solutions:

  • I’ll cut the pie but you get to choose the first piece – When the term was over and it was time to move out, Stacey cleaned out the kitchen dishes into two boxes but her roommate Courtney selected which box to depart with.
  • Take turns – Coworkers Nathan and Daniel alternated taking the trash out of their office every evening.
  • Do both – See if it is first possible that both people’s needs can be met. Why compromise if not necessary?
  • Trial period – Agree to a solution only for a specific length of time, after which you’ll reevaluate. If one party feels the solution isn’t working, then renegotiate the terms
  • My way when I’m doing it, your way when you’re doing it – Sisters Kelly and Samantha couldn’t decide on what to watch while in the room. While Kelly had the remote could watch all her favorite episodes. While Samantha had the remote she able to watch sports.
  • Tit for tat – Mary always fought with Mike over cleaning the kitchen after dinner. They agreed the house rule was whoever cooked dinner was relieved of kitchen cleanup for the evening.
  • Part of what I want with part of what you want – Jack and Jill couldn’t agree on what to do for valentines. Jack wanted to go to a comedy show, while Jill wanted to try out a new restaurant downtown. They agreed to get appetizers at the new restaurant before heading to the comedy show for dinner.
  • Split the difference – If possible, split the bill down the middle, or the time you spend doing the task in half.

When working toward a compromise, its crucial to maintain flexibility. Holding a fixed entrenched position makes negotiation difficult. Be open to unexpected solutions. Be prepared to give something up for something you want.

McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2010). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance.

Smith, P. (2014). Negotiation in relationships: 7 concrete things you can do. Retrieved from:


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