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How to Negotiate With Family Members During the Holidays

A necessity during these less-than-typical times.

Negotiation tips with family members come in handy during the holiday season, especially when a vast amount of decisions need to be made collaboratively and efficiently. During the pandemic and possible change in weather, a new batch of decisions require negotiations for the upcoming holiday celebrations. Challenges that came up for some of my patients include who will attend, how many will attend, in what way will they attend (directly, via Zoom, etc.), and setting specific boundaries around get-togethers.

The general rule is if someone reaches out and wants to address an issue, it’s best to respond to them promptly. If you don’t, you run the risk of them not approaching you again and you or they not feeling attended to.

Remember the long-term relationship involved with this family member. You’re bound to spend the rest of your life in close proximity with him or her. From the onset, actively listen and discover your mutual interests. Make it a point to put yourself in their shoes and see it from their point of view. Also, seek to understand better what specific thoughts and feeling are compelling their position.

Don’t ever assume you know how someone thinks or feels, even if you experienced similar circumstances. Every circumstance can be different and every reaction to the circumstance can be different too. Your family members are talking because they want to be heard. Hear them out and then relate with mindfulness and purpose. Always bring the conversation full circle checking back in with them.

When You Speak About Your Needs and/or Feelings in the Negotiation:

  1. Organize your thoughts before speaking.
  2. Speak their language (i.e., if they intellectualize speak from an intellectual point of view, if they tend to get defensive, know the things that get them defensive and talk to them sensitively about those topics).
  3. Practice what you are going to say and think of them as a friend and someone who cares about you and wants the best for you as opposed to the enemy who wants to harm you. Keep in mind that people will react to you based on how they interpret what you are saying whether you intended it that way or not. Be in touch with your capacity to be or become defensive. Avoid acting out defensively and taking things personally. Stay on the trajectory of mindfully expressing your thoughts and feelings.
  4. Remember always address whatever you are unhappy with early—before it builds up inside and you are more likely to raise your voice, express yourself with judgment and anger, and are less likely to listen to what they have to say.
  5. Speak clearly, avoid using jargon, and be very specific about what you are referring to.
  6. Use “I” statements not accusatory “you” statements. This conveys judgment and disapproval. A “you” statement does not communicate a feeling but conveys a belief about the other person. They will be less likely to listen/hear what you are saying.
  7. Use the four parts of the “I” statement when you are communicating. (a) When you…, (b) The effects are…, (c) I feel…, and (d) I prefer if…
  8. When you speak always start out by accentuating the positive and reinforcing positive behaviors and attributes—they will be more open and inclined to listen to you.
  9. Talk specifically about observations and behaviors and detail specific changes you want to see being made.
  10. Convey a trusting, caring, and empathetic tone so that they will be more inclined to want to express themselves (and will feel that you care about their feelings/needs as well).
  11. Be conscientious of when you speak to your family member. Express yourself when there is a real opportunity to have a dialogue not when you’re half listening and trying to manage other things at the same time.
  12. Be sure that your desires/requests are realistic, feasible, and manageable, and check in to see how they feel about these desires/requests.
  13. Be a positive role model and be conscientious of all the things you are asking them to pay attention to. Make it a point to “practice what you preach.”
  14. React and interact with your family members based on your values (e.g., thoughtfulness and kindness) rather than solely based on their direct reaction to you and the level of emotional intensity that they’re presenting with.
  15. Lastly, make sure to always give compliments and praise and express appreciation when it is due. They are probably a well-intended person and deserve to hear this so the times when you are asking for things or negotiating with them won’t seem so daunting.

You may be doing everything right and things become heated and stymied. If there’s a need for a cooling-off period to recalibrate, take it and reconvene. Also, if there’s a need to get outside help, to assist in facilitating the negotiation, do not hesitate to ask for it from other family members, friends, or professional mediators or negotiators.

To effectively negotiate with family members, we must fortify trust and understanding, learn skills to effectively communicate, and align ourselves to find a position of mutual interest and collaboration.

Feel free to listen to a Gratitude and Thankfulness Guided Meditation led by me and subscribe for other guided meditations. 

Blog as posted on Psychology Today. 

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