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Sometimes to settle a dispute our first and best option is to have a conversation with the other person even when we know it is going to be tough. Perhaps we have had a conflict with our boss but nothing has been resolved. Maybe our cellphone provider is overcharging what it promised. Or maybe the property manager of our apartment building isn’t making the repairs he agreed to. Whatever the issue, it is usually a good idea to negotiate face to face to settle a dispute. The key to having a successful conversation, though, is to be well prepared.
It does not always seem worth it to negotiate a resolution to a dispute. Maybe you have already tried talking to the other person and the situation seems hopeless. You do not know if you want to take the risk to bring up the subject again. On the other hand, the risk of not having the conversation may also be costly.
Here is a good exercise that will help you decide whether you should have that difficult conversation: Sort out the real risks — the facts — from the fears that might be dominating your thinking. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. On one side, list the potential risks of bringing up the issue, and on the other side, list the potential benefits of doing so. You may see benefits you had not thought of before.
If you list that you are uncomfortable about having the tough talk, ask yourself whether it’s because you know the conversation is going to be difficult (in which case you can prepare), or whether it’s because you feel unsafe around the other person. If you think talking to the other person is going to put you at risk, consider how you might be able to increase your sense of safety. This might be by arranging to meet in a public place, talking it over with a trusted advisor, or using a third party to resolve the dispute.
You should also ask yourself what might happen if you do not try to settle your dispute through negotiation. The answer may make your situation clearer and provide you with the motivation you need to work things out. If you have decided that it is worth having the discussion because the benefits outweigh the risks, you will also want to make sure you truly understand what you hope to accomplish.
Take some time to check in with yourself about your motivations for talking with the other person and what you hope to get out of it. Here are some steps to help you clarify your intentions for the meeting.
On a piece of paper, create three columns:
Think about what you would reasonably consider the best outcome of the process. Think about what you would consider the worst outcome of the process, and how you should prepare for it.
Ask yourself if you are more upset than the situation necessitates. Consider how you may have contributed to the problem, and likewise, how the other person may have. Is there something in your personal history that is being triggered?
Check your attitude towards the meeting. If you think the conversation is going to be horrible, it probably will be. If you believe that no matter what happens some good will come of it that will likely be the case. Once you are clear about what you hope to get from the meeting, take some time to plan for it.
It is important to plan for a meeting where you will try to settle a dispute. Here are some ideas for how to prepare:
You are now ready to request a meeting.
Many of us begin a tough conversation by blurting out what’s on our mind. We do not think about whether it’s the right time or place. But there is. Here are some tips on how to request a meeting to have a tough conversation:
You are all set to go, or are you? Maybe the other person makes you angry or you get defensive too easily. Being relaxed and in control of your emotions will help you feel more confident.
Before you head into your meeting with the other person you will want manage your emotions. Sounds obvious, but our emotions are often managing us. To get emotionally prepared, consider using one or more of the following calming strategies.
Make a conscious effort to practice one of these relaxation techniques as soon as you recognize that you are responding emotionally in a conflict. Remember that all techniques take practice. If one does not work for you, try another. Now that you have prepared for your tough talk, you are ready to negotiate. See Negotiating a Solution.
IMPORTANT: This page provides legal information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.
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