Our many opportunities to mediate: And our new opportunity to learn how

Does it seem like the people all around you just can’t get along? Do you often lament everyone’s inability to relate to everyone else, which often impedes your own happiness?

If so, you’re in luck. You have many daily opportunities to mediate! Anytime you can help the people around you reconcile their differences, you have the everyday opportunity to mediate. And anytime you engage in everyday mediation, you also have the opportunity to make life negotiable—for the disagreeable parties, but also often for yourself.

Indeed, it must be your lucky day because you not only have many opportunities to mediate; you also have an excellent new book by conflict resolution experts Jeanne Brett, Stephen Goldberg, and Beatrice Blohorn-Brenneur that tells you exactly how to do so. Before considering the book, though, let’s consider just a few of our many daily opportunities to mediate and thus make life negotiable:

  1. Arguing kids. Who gets to play with the dinosaur? Who gets to sit closer to the TV? Who gets to eat the remaining sliver of birthday cake? Such are the disagreements that frequently arise among young kids, and that often call for a parental mediator, whose efforts not only pacify the kids but protect their own sanity.
  2. Factional families. The approaching holidays tend to bring families closer—physically but not always emotionally. Families frequently have factions—be it about politics, personal style, or past events and slights. An opportunity to mediate around the turkey and thereby boost everyone’s holiday cheer, perhaps?
  3. Disagreeable coworkers. We don’t always get to choose our teammates. Sometimes we’re stuck with an organizational team containing two irascible souls who mix like oil and water. But their bad blood doesn’t change our own accountability for the project deliverable. Mediating is often the only way to contain the oil spill before it poisons the well.
  4. Competing impulses. We often experience conflicts within ourselves—a struggle between want and should, for example, or a tug-of-war between work and life. Finding a way to mediate between impulses without trampling one or the other can often pave the only road to balance.
  5. Prickly contractors. Those of us who own homes know that they often require maintenance. Unfortunately, that maintenance sometimes fails to produce the desired outcome, and we as homeowners have to figure out why. Is that ugly bulge in the ceiling a result of the roofer’s leaky shingles, the painter’s shoddy patchwork, or the insulator’s clumsy footwork? Ask the roofer, and you’ll probably hear the painter or insulator. You get the picture. Mediating between protective and prickly contractors who think none of their own work may have contributed to a problem may be the only way to get your house fixed without footing the bill for a redo.

Luckily, the new book by Brett and colleagues tells you just about everything you might want to know about mediation. From what it is, to how to do it, to handling the inherent difficulties, this  book offers an easily accessible and eminently valuable resource for those of us who have to mediate—that is, for all of us. So I hope you read it, as I have. And I hope it helps to make your own life more negotiable, as it has mine.

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What’s up, doc? Negotiating in healthcare

Most of us spend more on healthcare than we’d like to—more, in some cases, than our annual car or mortgage payments. That being the case, why do we spend so much time negotiating the terms of our cars and houses, and so little the terms of our healthcare?

Frankly, the negotiation professor in me just doesn’t know. From my perspective, a few simple principles from the research literature on negotiation can make our healthcare much more negotiable. Just a few illustrative examples:

  1. Setting high aspirations. Negotiation research consistently shows that those who set and stick to aggressive goals tend to achieve better outcomes. With respect to our own bodies, though, I suspect many of us are dissuaded from our goal of ideal health when a well-intentioned doctor tell us “there’s nothing wrong,” or “you’re just fine,” even when we know there is and we’re not.
  2. Reiterating our core interests. Negotiation research shows that the most effective negotiators are those who hew to a consistent script—reiterating their core problem or motivation as consistently and repeatedly as possible. This seems particularly important in healthcare, when we often have to answer the very similar questions of a seemingly endless series of people. On a visit to the ER, for example, we might have to state our symptoms to the front desk, triage nurse, attending nurse, doctor, radiologist, and so it goes. The more consistent our message to each person, even in response to slightly different turns-of-phrase, the better our chances of proper treatment.
  3. Cultivating an alternative: The best negotiators always develop an alternative possibility—another car or house they’d be willing to buy, for example. Negotiating the terms of an alternative affords them power in their primary negotiation but also, importantly, helps them learn about whatever they’re negotiating. What price should I really offer for my preferred Corvette? Some of us cultivate an alternative in healthcare by obtaining a second opinion. But I suspect that some of us don’t because we think the doctor will get offended. Assuming we’re at least as motivated to learn about our health as our cars, I’d suggest we should.
  4. Asking questions: The best negotiators ask a lot of questions. Indeed, they probably use their listening ears more than their speaking lips. Well, few contexts are quite as rife for questions as the cryptic explanation of benefits. $392.54 for an octowhatgraphy with Dr. Whosehisname? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that calling the insurance company and asking about it not only helps me mitigate confusion. It also turns up quite a few clerical errors that end up saving me money.
  5. Just asking: Asking a lot of questions is great, but even more basic is asking in the first place. The best negotiators are those who simply ask for whatever they need or want rather than expecting their counterpart to guess. But I suspect that few of us really ask for what we want in healthcare, mainly because we think we can’t—especially with a high-status doctor across the table. Lower prices, less invasive procedures, fewer unnecessary appointments: it’s all worth an ask if it matters.

In short, few aspects of our own lives are more important than our health. So why not do what we can to negotiate a healthier deal?

The musings of 2015

In the spirit of a negotiable 2016, I thought it might be useful to summarize my musings from 2015. At a minimum, I suspected that putting all the basic ideas in a single place might help people to locate my thoughts on a specific problem, and also find a prospective solution. And finally, I surmised that a summary might help to reveal the many connections across ideas. So here, without further ado, is a summary of my 2015 musings, extended just slightly:

  1. When trying to get a toddler to eat (or any formidable opponent to do anything), make the first offer
  2. When buying a car (or making any other consequential purchase), fall in love with at least two counterparts
  3. When deciding whether to change jobs (or which of any two offers to accept), define your bottom line for each as a function of the other
  4. When trying to reduce your bills (or achieve any other optimistic outcome), set and stick to an aggressive goal
  5. Actually, when buying a car (or making any other consequential purchase), think about all four of the preceding posts
  6. When disputing with the airlines (or any other difficult service provider), hint at your alternatives but not your bottom line
  7. When dividing the work with coworkers (or responding to anyone’s first offer), don’t accept their first offer
  8. When trying to get a poky person to leave on time (or anyone difficult to comply), equate the first offer with your goal
  9. When trying to get a toddler to sleep on time (or, again, anyone difficult to comply), stay mentally focused on your goal
  10. When selling something on Craigslist (or anywhere), make your concessions strategically
  11. When dealing with a difficult salesperson (or feeling pressured by anyone pesky), use ratification to depart the situation
  12. When selling your furniture (or anything else important), make your first offer strategically
  13. When figuring out where to spend the holidays (or dividing any other fixed resource), treat it as an opportunity to be creative rather than competitive
  14. When making the first offer described in #1 (or any other first offer), don’t make your offer right away
  15. When soliciting bids for home repairs (or negotiating with multiple parties of any kind), guard against several common negotiation mistakes
  16. When deciding where to eat (or what to do more generally), focus on negotiation rather than persuasion
  17. When trying to reverse a service fee (or deal with any other high-power party), don’t let your low power hold you back
  18. When asking for a raise (or negotiating anything else of consequence), preparation is nothing short of essential
  19. When dividing up the housework (or anything else unpleasant), develop creative options to turn no deal into a deal
  20. When figuring out where to spend the holidays (or, again, dividing any other fixed resource), ask yourself some critical questions before accepting an impasse
  21. Are the best negotiators like Trump? (not so much)
  22. When convincing a child to clean up (or anyone who doubts you to do anything), consider asking for the opposite of what you want
  23. When negotiating across cultures (or feeling tentative in general), don’t hesitate to make the first offer
  24. When trying to enjoy holiday time with your family (or get along with any group of people), celebrate the differences that make deals possible
  25. When dealing with intransigent work colleagues (or anyone intransigent), ask why as we do of toddlers
  26. When dealing with intransigent work colleagues (or anyone intransigent), distract them as we do with toddlers
  27. When trying to enjoy holiday gift-giving (or appreciate any important moment), gratitude may be more important than negotiation

Here’s to a negotiable 2016!