They say silence is the best tool in a negotiation. Similarly, there are times, relationships and situations in which trying to get your cards on the table just won't work. In that case, there are two obvious questions: How do you know when it's futile, and what should you do instead?
There are no steadfast answers to either question, but there are some guidelines and options that can help. For starters, ask yourself a few questions about the person and the situation:
1. Does this person have the capacity to negotiate? The answer has little to do with intelligence, and more to do with their ego. If this person is insecure or feels envious of you, it is going to very hard for them to open up in a way that would make your conversation productive.
2. Are you trying to meet the other person's needs? Examine your motives for having an uncomfortable conversation. If it is to get only what you want or need, the discussion won't go well. You must come to every negotiation with an interest in meeting the other sides' needs as well as your own. This doesn't mean forsaking what you want, but it does mean understanding what the other person wants, and trying to think of solutions that are mutually beneficial.
3. Is there more than one solution? If your goal, for example, is to get a raise of $5,000 per year, and you want nothing else, you are severely limiting your options for an optimal result. If, however, you want to be compensated more fairly, and you are open to many ways of receiving it (benefits, bonuses, etc), and willing to give what you think your boss needs to warrant it, you are much more likely to get what you need.
If the answer is no to any of the above questions, then it would be wise to look at other strategies. Not to worry, there are countless options. Let's look at a few of the most common you might use:
1. Build the relationship: As opposed to a head-on confrontation, put some effort into breaking down the barriers in small and simple ways. This is especially useful with people who are intimidated or threatened by you. Check in with them; ask them for some guidance, build rapport, and take notice of what they do well. Even the smallest of things can go a very long way in dissolving the negativity they and you are feeling. It's always useful to remember that someone in the world probably thinks they are wonderful. Very few people are completely unlikeable.
2. Work around them: While there is no need to deliberately avoid them, it is prudent to take yourself out of situations in which you are forced to spend a lot of time together. If they are a colleague, you may try to work on projects with other peers as much as possible. If it is a family member, you may try to engage in conversation with other family members when you are all together.
3. Accept them: The real work is always done on and within ourselves. Forgiveness and the understanding that people act out because of their own unhappiness, are keys to our mental freedom. See this person in the same vein as you would someone you loved who made a mistake. You aren't happy with them, but you can accept their shortcomings.
Most of the time we avoid difficult conversations that could improve a relationship. It is critical to try to have them when the time is right. Even if you fail, you know you tried, but there is a great deal of wisdom in knowing when not to try, and there is solace in understanding that there are always options.
Elisa Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.