Sandra was nervous. A “family meeting” had been called by her older sister who had the lion’s share of responsibility for helping their 84-year-old father stay in his own home. Sandra’s brother and sister-in-law were driving up for the meeting too. Sandra called me. How could she make the meeting a success? She was worried about tensions around who should be doing what, when to call in outside help, and compensating Sandra’s older sister for her efforts? Sandra’s sister-in-law wasn’t always a positive factor in these meetings either. Sandra’s fear and trepidation was palpable and she had been waking up at 3 a.m. the last few mornings.
I shared with Sandra some principles and tips. I’ll devote the next few messages to sharing them for your use at your next family meeting or negotiation with your contractor, co-worker, or your soon-to-be former spouse. And I’ll tell you how it turned out for Sandra at the end!
- Be Patient. There is often a rush to figure things out to reduce the incredible anxiety that can overtake us in conflict. But neuroscientists tell us our thinking is impaired under stress, resulting in the loss of 10-15 IQ points! So take a breath (literally) and give yourself — and the others in the meeting who have also lost a few IQ points due to their own stress levels — time to take in information, reflect on it, and resume discussion.
- Focus on the Future. The past can inform us but shouldn’t control us. You can nurture the hurts of the past or you can focus on and create a brighter, more peaceful future. I often tell clients to think about the door to our room as a dividing line between the past — which they can do nothing about — and the future which they can control. Whenever the discussion veers off into “You did ___(fill in the blank)___” I gently remind them we’ve just walked through the door into the past, acknowledge the event, and ask, “How can we take that experience and shape the future so you don’t find yourself there again?”
- Acknowledge the Other Side Has a Point. It’s rare any of us is right 100% of the time. When hurt and anger are most intense, we are less likely to see the full picture. Remain open to understanding the other’s perspective.
Was Sandra patient and future focused? Did she acknowledge that even her sister-in-law might have a point of view? Stay tuned! But for now, if you followed just these three principles in your next negotiation, you have paved the way for success.
Wishing you wisdom,
 Names have been changed.