Reality Check: Turn Around

Relationships have differences. If those differences aren’t handled well, they can lead to unfortunate consequences: marriage breakup, financial hardship, traumatized children.

Differences at work can lead to people quitting or being fired, to stress, anxiety, lost productivity, and lost opportunities.

There are practical benefits to handling differences so the outcome is “win-win” rather than “I win-you lose.”  Choice theory suggests, “Always negotiate differences.” Here’s the rub:

When you (or I) disagree with someone, we’re pretty sure that we’re right. It’s rare that we perceive ourselves as the stubborn, uncompromising one with the unreasonable position. Why would I negotiate when I’m right?

In his book, “A Set of Directions for Putting and Keeping Yourself Together,” Dr. Robert Wubbolding observes that if you ask kids why they are fighting, the answer is, “because the other person started it.” Does the same apply to adults?

Moira and Bill separated years ago. Both want a divorce. Yet, divorce still isn’t done. Why? They can’t agree on how to divide their assets!

Who wins in this ongoing dispute? Well, I’m pretty sure their lawyers are doing ok, but not Moira or Bill. Their dispute is now more contentious than when they split.

Bill declares everything must be divided 50:50.

Moira’s position is more complicated. When they married, Moira had significantly more money and assets than Bill. Blissfully in love, she had put Bill’s name jointly on everything, declaring, “What’s mine is yours!” But now, by golly, Bill had better get his grubby hands off her stuff!

Besides, she blames Bill for the breakup. He should be punished (monetarily) for the pain he’s caused her.

When deeply embedded in a disagreement, it’s difficult to see where the other person is coming from. To get a clearer picture, “turn around”—imagine that your roles are reversed.

For example, if Bill had owned the valuables and put them in Moira’s name when they married, would Moira now say, “I know these are really yours, so I’ll sign them over to you”? Or would she insist on a 50:50 split?

Moira knows she would fight for “her” share, even if it could be perceived as being unfair to Bill. In other words, if the situation were turned around, Moira would do exactly what Bill is now doing. That doesn’t mean that Moira suddenly agrees with Bill’s position, but at least she understands it.

Moira still maintains that her position is completely justifiable. She believes, “Bill deserves none of what’s mine.” Is that inflexibility helping Moira get closer to what she wants (to be rid of Bill)? If not, she may want to consider softening her stance so they can finally agree and be done.

After all, which is better: To share with Bill? Or to watch their assets flow into lawyers’ bank accounts?

Any negotiation is a two-way street: “Here is what I can do for you; this is what you might do for me.”  Neither party will likely get all they want. Turning around so you can get the other party’s perspective is one effective way to help a negotiation move toward settlement.

How do you negotiate differences in your life?

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