January 16, 2006

You Win, I Win, Can We BOTH Win?

Filed under: Loving Thy Neighbor — Katryna Starks @ 11:26 am

By Azriel Winnett

John, a young man who had been married for six months, was beginning to feel a little cheesed off with the institution – of marriage. He confided to his best friend, Gary, that married life – well, at least, *his* married life – was not all that it had been cracked up to be.

“It looks like you need to speak to someone, John,” said Gary, sympathetically. “I mean, someone with experience in these matters. Now, I know a good person, an old man, and a wise one, who’ll give you just the right advice. He’s brilliant. And it won’t cost you a cent.”

John didn’t need to be told twice. He arrived at the old man’s door, knocked, and introduced himself.

“We’ve been married for only a few months,” he wailed, “and already there are tensions.”

“Really? In what way?”

“Well, I roll and she squeezes!”

The wise counselor’s eyebrows knitted together in puzzlement, but even before he could ask for an explanation, the whole sad story came blurting out.

“You see, I like to roll the toothpaste gently. That’s clean, it’s efficient and it’s economical. But she insists on taking the tube in her hand and giving it a good squeeze…”

“No problem!” proclaimed the old man. “Buy two tubes of toothpaste.”

Neat, isn’t it? A little imagination and creativity can go a long way towards resolving interpersonal conflicts.

But you know, and I know, that it doesn’t always work that way. It SHOULD, but it doesn’t. Why not?

Sometimes, one of the parties is just plain stubborn. Other times, a moral principle may be involved that simply does not allow any compromise. But more often than not, a faulty communication pattern is the culprit.

Mary is a housewife with a brood of healthy little children – maybe a little *too* healthy, for keeping them in check is far more than a full time job on its own. She’s also trying to set up a home business, and is involved with various community projects. Her husband comes home at the end of a long. long day, and she barely manages to utter a plaintive: “Phew, am I exhausted!”

“I’ve told you before you’re taking on too much,” he replies. “Half of the work you do is totally unnecessary.”

Does this make Mary feel better? No, she feels worse. Another time she might have appreciated this well meaning advice, but certainly not now. At this moment, what she would have loved to hear is something like, “Yes, you look so tired. It must have been a really rough day. Why don’t you relax a little while I attend to the kids?” (You may remember that I touched on this phenomenon two weeks ago.)

Now,Mary,fortunately,is a mature and emotionally stable adult. She understands hubby’s good intentions, and won’t take the whole thing too much to heart.

But if she had been a child, she might have been far more vulnerable, and it’s quite surprising how the Mary’s of this world often don’t give their own children the understanding they expect from others.

A simple example – a scene that takes place in millions of households every day of the year – might make make my point clear.

You want little Johnny to drink up his milk, because you believe it’s good for him. (Whether it is indeed good for him is somewhat problematic, but that’s another issue which doesn’t concern us here. We adopt the traditional viewpoint for convenience’s sake.)

“Yikes! This stuff tastes awful!” he protests.

How do you react? Do you tell him:

“Aw..come on…everybody thinks it’s delicious!”

or: “Don’t exaggerate, it’s not so bad!”

If you do, what’s the inevitable outcome? Well, you know yourself…

Parents with experience know that to stand any chance of success, they have to face facts. They have to respond in a different way:

“The milk tastes bad to you?”

Excellent! But what’s happening here?

The parent hasn’t stated that she agrees with the child. But in five or six words, she has acknowledged how he feels. She has validated his concern.

At this point, she can continue: “I know its not nice to drink something you don’t like, but we want you to grow up healthy and strong. Let’s put some flavoring in so it will taste better..”

Project accomplished!

What we see here is a negotiating strategy which is simple in essence, but has countless applications in interpersonal relations.

Among people doing business on the Internet, “win-win” has become a familiar buzzword. “You put my banner on your site, and I’ll put yours on mine. Send me a client, and I’ll refer one to you in return..” Let’s talk more about “win-win” in human relationships – not for the sake of petty personal advantage, but to bring more happiness into all our lives.

Want some homework? Look again at our opening story, and think about what John could do if he could only afford ONE tube of toothpaste..


Azriel Winnett publishes “Effective Communication”, a powerful and provocative free ezine that focuses on human communication in all its aspects. Look at past issues at http://www.hodu.com To subscribe , sign up at the site or send email to: effective-request@listhost.net with “subscribe” in the body