In our last posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we talked about finding common ground during a conflict discussion and shared an exercise to help you and your partner understand each other’s basic emotional needs. As Dr. Gottman says, “If you can remember just one word that might help you to focus on what the other person needs during these conflicts, you’ll have a better chance of finding common ground and connecting.” Just one word! 

In today’s posting, we’d like to give you another tool to add to your relationship toolkit. It was designed by a team of experts: the late Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and his research partner, Harvard psychologist Daniel Shapiro. These two really know what they’re talking about. They spent years researching the emotional dimension of negotiation, and collaborted to write their book, “Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.”

We came across their studies through the work of Melissa Orlov, an expert on relationships and a consultant for couples and therapists who deals specifically with the effects of ADHD on marriage. Fisher and Shapiro’s studies on negotiation caught our attention, as they echo much of what we have learned in our own research, and support many of our methods in Gottman Couples Therapy.

Here is what Orlov writes of Fisher and Shapiro’s research:

[These] authors point out that just telling yourself that you should shift your emotions from negative to positive, or trying to ignore emotions, are ineffective strategies for change. The emotions are there, you can’t just ignore them away. Another approach may be to ‘deal directly with all of your emotions,’ which is probably what you’ve been trying to do for quite some time now. But that’s hard, time consuming, and exhausting. Instead, they suggest that you focus on some “core concern” that underlie many human emotions and most of your marital negotiations.

The five “core concerns of negotiation,” as defined by Fisher and Shapiro, include:

1. Appreciation (Validation, Empathy):

  • Ignored when your thoughts, feelings, or actions are devalued.
  • Met when your thoughts, feelings, or actions are acknowledged.

2. Affiliation (Turning Towards, Bidding):

  • Ignored when you are treated as an adversary and kept at a distance.
  • Met when you are treated as a partner.

3. Autonomy (Setting Personal Boundaries):

  • Ignored when your freedom to make your own decisions is impinged upon.
  • Met when others respect your freedom to decide important matters.

4. Status (Accepting Influence):

  • Ignored when your relative standing is treated as inferior to the other.
  • Met when you are given equal standing and recognition.

5. Role (Working Together): 

  • Ignored when others plays the role of an adversary (me vs. you). 
  • Met when others play the role of an ally. 

According to Fisher and Shapiro, these five concerns are what underlie and stimulate the emotions you feel when you negotiate with your partner.  

When negotiation is chronically toxic, and conversations about disagreements always ends badly, trust goes out the window. When negotiation is damaging to your individual and shared lives, and disrespectful of your personal boundaries, commitment meets the same fate. If you can’t talk about your concerns and reach mutually agreeable solutions, there is no room for compromise! Briefly: if you cannot negotiate, your relationship is in serious trouble.

Here’s the good news: 
Instead of suffering the loss of what is most important to you, or unknowingly putting your partner’s needs in jeopardy, you can use a simple approach to change the nature of negotiation. Take Fisher and Shapiro’s advice – focus on these five core concerns. 

Go through them all: Appreciation, Affiliation, Autonomy, Status, and Role. Do you feel that your needs are being met in all of these areas? Don’t worry if they aren’t. These are not easy concerns to address! Your level of satisfaction with each of them is a result of many complex and long-lasting dynamics between yourself and your partner.

Take a moment to think about these concerns, one at a time. How have recent events (in the last few days or weeks) colored your response to this question?

  • What kinds of situations made you feel appreciated? Which ones did not?
  • When did you feel close to your partner? When did you feel at odds or at a distance?
  •  When did you feel that you had the freedom to make your own decisions? When did you feel deprived of autonomy?
  • What feelings do you have about your relative status to your partner? Which events come to mind when you formulate an answer to this question? 
  • How do you feel about your role as a husband or wife? What does this role mean to you in your life? How would you like to change this role? 

On Friday, we will build upon these questions by applying skills from Gottman Couples Therapy, and share an exercise that will help you to use negotiation for its intended purpose: mutual gain.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!


More in The Archives
Finding Common Ground: The Harvard Negotiation Project
Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.