Every relationship consists of two people trying to get what they need. When they need different things at the same time, or when one person wants something that the other does not want to give trouble starts.

The willingness to negotiate starts with a clear commitment that there won’t be winners or losers. It assumes that each person’s needs are valid and understandable and draws on a willingness to compromise so that each person gets some of what he or she wants.

For you to participate fairly in getting your needs met and balancing this with the other person’s needs you must be able to:

  • Know and say what you need or want
  • Notice or find out what the other person wants
  • Negotiate and compromise so you can get at least some of what you want
  • Give what you can of what the other person wants

Conflict can arise and persist if there is an imbalance in the extent to which each person is getting their needs and wants met. Being aware when an imbalance is present or developing can help us avert conflict and negotiate more fairly.

The ‘I want - They want Ratio’ exercise is designed to raise awareness of the varied wants of two people in a relationship and assess the extent to which each person is getting their wants met. It   involves a worksheet with four column headings: (i) I want, (ii) Outcome, (iii) They want, (iv) Outcome. After comparing proportions of needs that are met or unmet, think about how the relationship deals with those unmet needs. Are they negotiated or ignored? Are they sources of blame or withdrawal? <Link to resource>

It is useful to be aware of strategies for coping with resistance and conflict, or when the other person is not listening to you. McKay et al (2007) suggest five skills:

Mutual validation – Validating what the other person wants again, showing you understand their needs and feelings (e.g. “I understand that you …”) and then making one statement that validates your own position (e.g. “On my end I need to ….”)

Broken record – Repeating the same statement over and over using slightly different phrasing

Probing – Asking about the core concern that they other person has (e.g. “What is it about (name the situation) that bothers you?” Just keep asking it until you get something useful

Clouding – Agreeing with part of what the other person is saying, without accepting everything they say is true

Assertive delay – Ask if you can have some time to think about what is being said and come back with a response later

The RAVEN mnemonic is useful for coping with conflict:

Relax – Accept conflict calmly

Avoid the aversive

Validate the other person’s need or concern

Examine your values

Neutral voice