March 13, 2006


Negotiating differences requires that we come from a why position rather than a what position. When we focus on what we want rather than why we want it, we are stuck with only two solutions, yours and mine.

If we choose either of these, one of us wins and one of us loses. This is great when I win. Not so great when I lose. Instead, if we pay attention to why it is we want what we want, then the door opens to a myriad of possible solutions.

In our house, I like a lot of light--the brighter, the better. My husband hates a lot of light. For the first several years of our marriage (I was a bit slow on the uptake), one of us was always a little less than satisfied. Some nights I would have the overhead light on while my husband cringed. Other nights he’d have the lamp on while I squinted.

This went on, until one day, we actually talked about why I wanted the overhead on and why he hated the overhead (this was a “light-bulb moment” for us--no pun intended).

We discovered that he was fine with more light. He just didn’t want the overhead light on because fluorescent lighting bothers his eyes. I was fine with not having the overhead light on, but one lamp was not enough light for me. Solution: we bought a second lamp and I make sure we use bulbs with maximum wattage.

We never would have come to this solution if we didn’t let go of what we wanted and instead looked at why we wanted it.

When we are struggling with our partner about an issue it is not helpful to continually restate what it is we want. Chances are our partner knew what we wanted the first six times we said it--saying it another six is not going to help clarify anything or change our partner’s mind. Our partner is not giving us what we want because--surprise--it’s not what s/he wants.

When we take a moment to step back a bit and let go of both solutions, we make room for a third one that is often better than the first two.

Challenge: The next time you and your partner are disagreeing about what you want remember to focus on the why. Step back and try to create a third solution--one that works for both of you.


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