Here's How Circles And Chairs Help Couples Negotiate: Pt. 1 – Michael Grinder & Associates

Here’s How Circles and Chairs Help Couples Negotiate: Pt. 1

Hi, I’m Michael Grinder and welcome to Circles and Chairs of Negotiation. This is part one of a two-part series.

This part will talk about solvable problems. We will be using John Gottman’s book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. In his book and his research, he indicates, get ready to be shocked, 69% of chronic issues are not solvable.

Do you know this category of issues? It’s when you have memorized your lines as well as your partner’s lines. We all can identify with the broken record syndrome.

Part two will cover the good news that satisfaction in your relationship has nothing to do with conflict resolution abilities.

The purpose of part one is to make sure that the viewers have a clear understanding of the process that it takes to solve the resolvable issues and, most importantly, avoid the mistake of using an ineffective method because a solvable issue becomes chronically unsolvable if we’re using the wrong approach.

Part one and part two restrict themselves to talking about couples’ communication. And while the skills are scalable so you can use them in a corporate setting, we’re gonna restrict ourselves to just couples’ communication.

Why? The corporate world would tend to view negotiation as successful or unsuccessful based on the outcome, whereas in a marriage, in a partnership, the process that you use is more important than where you end up in terms of the decision that the couple makes.

In fact, Gottman’s research indicates that the degree of friendship between the two partners is the single most important determinant of whether people are satisfied with the relationship, not whether they got their way.

So while the corporate world might be result-oriented, successful relationships, fighting, negotiation, is based on the process that is used. Sometimes the corporate world acts very short-term whereas relationships are always long-term.

How well you feel heard when you are speaking is critical. When you hear statements like, “he or she never listens, I don’t feel understood, he always does, she never does,” those are process indicators that affect the long-term relationship and in particular, the friendship between the partners.

A word of caution. If you’re in a relationship or reflecting on a relationship you were in, or preparing for the next relationship you’re going to be in, please consider practicing these skills. A couple that doesn’t practice when things are going along just fine, will not be in shape to handle the volatility when the heavy issues pop up.

Sometimes the issue that the couple deals with is rather mundane, like which way the toilet paper should come off the holder. Other times it could be where should we take our vacation. We’ve planned it for three years, we’ve saved our money, one party wants to go to New York, the other one wants to go to Rome.

We want to apply two concepts to the problem-solving process. One is called circles and the other one is called chairs.

Here’s a quick review about circles. It comes from the full title Circles of Humanness.

When two people are interacting with each other they literally have five layers or circles that they can communicate on. The outside circle is appearance. Then there is the circle of behaviors. The middle circle is styles. The two inside circles are values and core identity.

We suggest that each member has three chairs that they they can operate from.

The top two chairs, we’re gonna call the statement chairs. The middle set of chairs we’re gonna call the listening chairs. And the bottom chairs are the solution chairs.

Let’s look at one of the top statement chairs. Let’s pretend that the person on the left says, “I” want to go to New York,” and the person on the right says, “I want to go to Rome.”

If you take the behavioral statements of New York and Rome, and then go down to the solution chairs and try to solve it, you may come up with something such as let’s flip a coin. Whoever wins, we’ll go to that person’s vacation spot, save our money, and three years from now, we’ll go to the other person’s vacation city.

Looking at the statement chairs, the two people are seated, they’re facing each other, but behind every statement is some kind of motivation, some kind of a value.

For example, if the person wants to go to New York, if they felt safe and comfortable, they might share with their partner they want to go to New York because they want the nightlife, they want the energy, they want to see Broadway. And the person who wants to go to Rome, their reason might be that they’re looking for antiquity, they want to look at the origin of culture, and they wanna understand another worldview in terms of how you think about reality.

To represent the idea that values are behind statements of behaviors, the people stand up out of their chairs and stand behind their chairs because it symbolizes a larger, higher view of what their purpose and intentions are. Taking those values and going to the solution chairs has a much greater chance of success.

New York and Rome are pretty fixed, but seeking a common place where they might be able to get nightlife, culture, antiquity, and another worldview is much easier to solve.

But more importantly, the couples listen to each other.

That’s the intimacy. That’s the friendship that works in the long run. Simply put, which statement you bring to the solution chair determines your success. The behavior statement of “I want Rome” versus the value statement of “I value,” increases the flexibility of solutions.

Now the hard question. How do you get people to change from their behavior statement to their value statement?

The secret, the really important ingredient in terms of negotiation, is the second set of chairs. How well do you listen?

It’s easy for people to say “I want.” For them to reveal “I value?” They have to feel safe.

So here’s a two-step process in terms of listening. When someone says New York, you’ve already stated that you want Rome, set aside that you want Rome and listen to your partner who wants New York. Repeat back what they said. It sounds like you really wanna go to New York.

Make sure that you are indicating that you’re listening. Make sure that you care about what their motivation is.

When they feel safe enough, they will literally shift their body. As they relax, you do step two. You then say, “what does going to New York mean to you? What does it represent? What would it do for you?”

Effective listening invites the person to go from their behavior circle to their value circle. The more they feel like you are genuinely interested in them, the more they feel safe. The more they are willing and vulnerable to share their motivation, their values.

On the screen, you see a chart of recommended and least recommended listening styles. On the far left is a code using the initials V A K and B. They represent the non-verbals.

The V represents visual non-verbals: eye contact and no eye contact, and how expressive your face looks.

The A stands for the auditory. What is your voice like? Are you soft? Are you gentle? Are you fast? Are you loud?

The K stands for your kinesthetic or body language. What is your gestures like? Are you leaning forward or sitting back? Are you close or are you farther from the other person?

And the most important non-verbal is the B. The B stands for breathing. The more relaxed you are listening, the safer they feel.

You are encouraged to pause the clip and look at the list. Figure out which behaviors in that left recommended column you already do, and which ones in the right column you’d like to move over to the left column. Often we do the recommended column when the topic is light and easy. And boy do we ever fall back into the least recommended when the topic is heavy and tense.

Take a moment and figure out which trait you want to add to your listening style, and at the same time, knowing that there’s a difference between a statement of behavior and a statement of value, you can work on your own before you meet with your partner. And make sure you are as clear as possible in terms of what are the values behind the behaviors that you tend to take a position on.

Often times one member of the partnership will have a natural empathetic ability and they will listen quite well with the recommended column. But once one member’s behaviors have been converted into values, then you have to switch. Then the other person has to ask, with very very gentle eyes, curious facial expressions, a soft voice, leaning forward, breathing nice and relaxed, and then do the two-step process.

“So it sounds like you really wanna go to Rome.” Make sure that they shift, they’re relaxed, and then go ahead and say the second part. What would going to Rome mean to you?

On the chart, we have the standing behind the chair position as representing the statement of values. It’s so much easier to solve meaning than behaviors. Meanings are abstract. Behaviors are concrete.

And most importantly, the process of listening well to your partner, making sure that you indicate sincerely you’re interested and really understanding how they are. One of the best things you can do is to go into a conversation with your partner and pretend you really don’t know them and their values. So then it’s like dating all over again in terms of your curiosity being very very high. That’s intimacy.

When you get to that solution chair, it may well be that you’re not going to end up in Rome or New York, but you’re gonna try to satisfy as many of the conditions that you have listed that represent what a vacation is for each of you.

In summary, effective negotiation is when you can move from behaviors to your values with deep respect for each other.

Henry Winkler, who’s been married 40 years, when asked the secret to his success, he says that the most important part of your body is your ears. Listen, hey maybe that’s why the name of his program was called “Happy Days.”

And may I end by saying that my relationship with my wife Gail is the single most important thing in my world. As a poet once said, “Fame and failure “are equal imposters when you are unconditionally loved “by another human being.”

I want to thank Linda Fitch and Amy Mason for helping me develop these concepts.

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