How to Negotiate

Be clear about your goals. That advice might sound obvious but a lot of times people go into negotiation without being clear. Your goals might be the unity of your family and well-being of your child.

Write down your goal in a sentence or two and keep it in front of you. That can become a guide to how you’re acting or reacting. Things will happen to make us upset and draw off course from our goals. You can look at your goal and ask yourself, “Is the next thing I’m going to say going to bring me closer to my goal or put me at risk?”

Make sure you understand the process. Ask in advance: “What’s the purpose of this meeting? What comes next? What’s after that?” This can help you be strategic and cope with setbacks. The short-term might be disappointing but you can say, “I’m going to put up with something I don’t like for a few months to get me what I want.”

Try to set aside emotion. In child welfare, it can feel like, “I’m talking to someone who wants to destroy my family.” That’s terrifying. The stakes in these conversations are unbelievably high. When you view a negotiation as a battle, then the only way you win is that the other side loses. But many times, there’s a way for both people to get something important. To be successful, you have to try to set aside emotion. “Be soft on the people and hard on the problem” is from the book Getting to Yes, and there’s some wisdom in that. It can be helpful to say, “I’m not regarding you personally as the enemy. You and I can work together against this tough problem to find a solution that works for both of us.”

Be ready for compromise. Think about the possible agreement you could reach and ask yourself, “If I have to give up something, what would I give up? If I have to push hard for something, what would I push hard for?”

Practice. Imagine the three toughest, most uncomfortable questions you could be asked and try to put the answers into words with someone you trust. Even if you just run through it 2-3 times, you’ll be so much more ready.

Bring allies. Having a team can help but it’s really important to prepare. Tell them: “When you advocate for me, I want you to know this is the outcome that matters most to me. These are the things we’re going to push for.”

Beware of getting “goal-jacked.” That’s when we let our goals get highjacked by emotion. When our buttons get pushed, we can lose sight of what really matters. It’s not just in situations like child welfare that people blow up a deal or wreck a relationship because they don’t keep in focus what they’re trying to accomplish. The question is: Can you recognize it in the moment and remind yourself of your goal? If you wrote down your goal, you can say to yourself, “I’m looking at what I came here to achieve and that is the unification of my family. So every time I’m about to speak, I need to ask myself, ‘Am I getting myself closer to that goal?’”

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