Communication — 25 November 2007
Is bartering helpful in relationship negotiations?

All relationships require good communication and negotiating skills. Couples who can express and hear each other well and negotiate in good will often have better and closer connection. Yet, not all problem-solving methods are created equal – some are effective and others may be ineffectual and even destructive.

If we examine negotiating skills recommended for business, sales, teamwork or employment, we find different styles advocated depending upon the anticipated outcome.

One technique in sales negotiation intends to enhance each party’s advantage, without great regard for the consequences to the other party. The idea is to “win” over the opponent, thus the negotiation becomes a self-serving battle. Psychological tools are employed to manipulate the buyer in believing that his/her needs are honestly considered and that the product and price are the most suitable and fairly priced for the buyer.

Other negotiations, such as salary negotiations occur between a person who is in power and a subordinate needing to justify his/her worth to obtain a salary increase. Recommendations in this area often advise the employee to: ask for more than you expect to receive, hint at better paying jobs you may be offered, flatter the boss, and use comparative salaries that may or may not be accurate.

Dr. Karrass who used his research and experience to develop Effective Negotiating®, a pioneering seminar to “help business people master the strategies, tactics, and psychological insights of negotiating”, advertises his seminar: “Effective Negotiating® Seminar – Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer!” This is hardly a good will attempt at resolving differences.

Though other negotiating courses state that they recommend creating a “win-win” situation, they advise, for example: “keep track of concessions you give and receive.” This bartering technique utilizes a score-keeping method to gain personal advantage, not address mutual needs.

Negotiations between partners differs greatly from those occurring between business entities: mates are equal, love each other and truly want the best for each other, are geared to please – not win and seek compromises that are mutually pleasing.

With such a different existential stance, the business negotiation models come short as fine models for couple’s negotiations. Techniques such as: manipulation, partial information, refusal to accept a “no”, lack of concern about the other’s predicament, insincere flattery, and dishonesty are unacceptable between love partners. Similarly, the notion of “winning” reduces the negotiations to a war – a destructive formula in love relationship.

Many pairs attempt to barter chores, tasks and privileges. For example, “I will do all the household chores for a year if I can get a large screen TV now” may sound like an exchange of two people’s needs, but is actually an unreliable promise of a “child” to his parent. This type of bartering, that empowers one mate to approve privileges for the other in exchange of certain work, creates a relationship inequality and is doomed to fail.

Many sentences between lovers that begin with “If” are also non-productive. For example, “If you will let me go away for a weekend with my girlfriends, I will not say a word about your watching Monday night football for six months.” This bartering is immature and ineffective.

Couples should negotiate shared responsibilities, free time, help and support by offering freely without attaching them to reciprocal expectations. “I am delighted to watch the kids tonight so you can have a good time with your friend.” This comment is a gift of love – not associated with a returned favor.

• Avoid using business models of negotiating in your relationship, they are not only inappropriate but may be harmful to both of you.
• Concentrate on pleasing each other – not just yourself.
• Abstain from keeping score of your partner’s negative acts or your positive ones. Both shame and distance you from each other and obstruct healthy negotiations.
• Manipulation, dishonesty, insincere flattery, telling half-truths, threats, begrudging, ‘tit for tat’, winning or bartering are self-serving and destructive to authentic relating.
• Lovingly offer to accommodate your partner’s needs – it requires no negotiation. Considerate acts are freely given, well received and often fully reciprocated with other acts of kindness.
• When negotiations are needed to resolve differences:

1. Ask your mate what will please him/her.
2. Clarify the need behind the wish.
3. Accommodate it as closely as you can or offer an alternative.
4. Realize that the issue will not matter much in the future – how you treat
each other will permanently determine whether your love wilts or

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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