Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Negotiating: preschool years


My wife (Yay, gay marriage was legalized in Illinois during my four-year hiatus from blogging!) often tells me that I am raising a little negotiator.   He and I discuss “terms” and “make proposals” and “offers” and “counter offers.”  We also identify the “problem” and “develop solutions” and, after running through the pluses and minuses of each option, we choose the best one together.  There is no right or wrong, no power struggle.  It’s a collaborative negotiation, where we try to meet the needs and interests of all parties.
He’s a preschooler and he’s an excellent negotiator; in fact, I would suggest that all kids are excellent negotiators but often parents don’t have the time or energy to nurture that in them. Most of us in our forties (Something else that happened to me these past four years: I aged out of my thirties.) had at least one parent, if not both, who asserted power and authority over us—certainly we experienced the power and authority of teachers and school administrators— so it comes more naturally.  It takes a great deal of conscious thought to negotiate with someone, particularly a preschooler who thinks he knows everything already (or is preschooler and “thinks he knows everything” redundant?), but it’s always worth it. 

For example, one day when I picked him up from school after work we needed to get dinner started soon and disagreed on how to spend the little time we had left.  We identified the problem: we had limited time and he wanted to go to the park whereas I wanted to go to the library.  Then we asked questions.  I asked him why he wanted to go to the park.  They hadn’t gone to the park at school that day he explained (unusual for a school day).  I told him I had a book waiting for me to pick up at the library.  There were two obvious solutions: go to the park or go to the library.  I asked him what we should do.  Instead of whining or yelling or insisting we go to the park “NOW!,” my son offered a third solution:  we could go to the park that day and the library the next day.  I talked it through for a minute while he listened: the book would still be waiting for me the following day; I had another book I was still reading (I am lost without a good book on hand at all times); and the weather was gorgeous while (quickly pulling over and checking my weather app) it was purported to rain the following day.  Okay, I said, he had a good idea: park today, library tomorrow.  We had a lovely time at the park that afternoon and the following day, as the rain came down, we skipped into the library, hand in hand.

Of course, there are always things that aren’t negotiable, mostly to do with health and safety, but they make up a small percentage of daily interaction, and if discussed in the same manner with respect and context, our little negotiator *mostly* accepts them, especially when I point out the twenty other things that we did negotiate that day.

In my experience teaching our child negotiation skills, boundaries are just as important, perhaps even more so, than when asserting adult/parental authority.  Respectful negotiation—listening, considering context and relationship, making reasonable proposals—focuses our communication and I think we both walk away more satisfied.  Yelling, whining or complaining isn’t allowed.  We talk, identify the problem, discuss our personal needs and interests, and determine whether they are compatible or conflictual, then identify and analyze solutions, ultimately choosing the best one together.

Digital image content © 2014 Laura L. Noah. All Right Reserved.

Blog Again


Last weekend I celebrated a friend’s birthday at a house she rented and at dinner we took turns sharing something we loved about her.  I talked about how this friend, no matter how busy or stressed, always took time to connect so that the people around her could actually feel that they mattered.  It reminded me of a piece I wrote when I was blogging years ago (MediationSmall Talk: Continuing the Conversation) because she was in fact the same friend I referenced then, with the same positive qualities I was hoping to emulate.  Four years later, she is still excellent at connecting with people in the moment–no matter the particulars surrounding that moment–and communicating to them that they matter.  I, on the other hand, am still working on getting better at this in more varied settings.  I am good at it in my role as a professional mediator but given my introverted and efficiency-driven nature it’s not a strength I find myself possessing in hallways, on the playground, at the neighborhood block party, or during other unplanned encounters. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Transitioning from Blog Posts to Articles

Three years ago I started this blog with the intention of meaningfully considering important issues in mediation, particularly those affecting the professional mediator. While posts became fewer in number as each year passed, I believe the words that were written here contributed new thoughts and critiques to the field of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Response to "A More Perfect Union" which ran in the New York Times Magazine

Married (Happily) With Issues or A More Perfect Union, was published in the New York Times Magazine on December 1, 2009. Here is my response.

As a mediator experienced working with families in the midst of crisis and relationship dissolution, I have long encouraged the use of mediation in a more preventative way. Unfortunately, for the many reasons Weil outlined, particularly the fear that “[it] carries not only the threat of learning things about yourself that you might prefer not to know but also the hazard of saying things to your spouse that are better left unsaid” (p.42) most people wait until the point of crisis to get help; a point at which they have already said many hurtful things to one another which cause irreparable damage to the relationship. Mediation as a preventative measure may be a more manageable option for some couples than therapy, since facilitative mediation has at its foundation a practical, problem-solving approach.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Youth Sports & Adult Violence: What will it take for communities to use the field of conflict resolution as a preventative resource?

One adult physically beat another adult at a youth football practice in Wilmington, Massachusetts this past weekend. There’s commentary in the papers regarding what might have actually happened leading to the fight and who actually threw the first punch. I don’t care about what happened. I care that it did happen. And it’s happened before. Fortunately, this time no one died. Others have died: Michael Costin, for example, in 2002. If we’re waiting to dissect the particulars of how or why these incidents occur, then we’re already too late, and frankly, it’ll happen again. It will keep happening, in fact.