It seems fitting to begin an article about money quarrels -- during Valentine's Day week, no less -- with a quote from the great 18th-century Romantic poet William Blake, who wrote in "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (ahem), "Without contraries is no progression."
In other words, go ahead and disagree with your significant other -- even dredge up and deal with your money maladies -- because, says Blake, working your way through the "contraries" -- those fiscal annoyances, spending anomalies, and financial shortcomings -- will actually help your relationship progress.
I think it's safe to deduce that even a century ago, the "my way or the highway" school of conflict management wasn't very effective, unless you liked sleeping in the barn.
The secret to marital bliss
So there you have it: Step 1, bring up those annoyances you've been avoiding; Step 3, bask in your newfound financial harmony and marital bliss.
As for Step 2, well, that's an art form unto itself, and for that I put away the poetry and called upon a bona fide conflict management expert, Harvard Negotiation Project's Daniel Shapiro, co-author of Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.
Money issues? Please pass the tissues
You can guess from the book's title that emotions run deep in all sorts of negotiations, yet, says Shapiro, most of us try to deny them. "People walk into negotiations assuming it's about facts and figures and even the way they prepare -- that emotions are an obstacle," he says.
That matter-of-factness is ever-present in households where cash is commingled. The account balances and ATM receipts belie the potent emotions that money conjures -- emotions that we blame for derailing even our most nonchalant financial interactions. In Shapiro's world, ignoring those tears and fears is actually what hampers most negotiations. "The best negotiators are those who focus on both the factual and the emotional dimensions of their interactions," he says.
Another critical flaw is to assume that the negotiation is adversarial and that the goal is to be victorious. Wrong-o: "Ultimately your interest is not to take advantage of the other side," Shapiro says. "It is to try and find some sort of agreement that meets everyone's interests all at the same time. The relationship -- the human piece, the emotions -- is important, particularly if you are going to be working together in the future."
Translation: Think "win-win," not "jab-jab-dodge-dodge-fake-left-knockout punch," particularly when you're dealing with someone who is intimately familiar with your bed head and morning breath and you wish them to tolerate both for years to come beauty.
Push his/her buttons
Winning your next money fight (in a two-sided win way, remember) isn't just about playing nice and letting those tears flow; it's about addressing the underlying concerns that stimulate the emotions in the right way.
Shapiro's research found that most of us (political leaders, hostage negotiators, businessmen, you and your shmoopy) have the same five key emotional issues -- "core concerns" in negotiation-speak. Addressing each core concern while building (or, in the case of twosomes, maintaining) a collegial relationship will lead you to that ultimate "win-win" place.
Steer tough talks toward more fruitful results by focusing on these five core concerns from Beyond Reason:
Appreciation: Everyone wants recognition that their thoughts, feelings, or actions have merit.
Show it: Listen and illustrate that you understand the other side's point of view. ("I may not agree with everything you say, but I do see merit in your opinions.")
Affiliation: A collegial relationship fosters a sense of connection. Think "partner," not "rival."
Build it: Focus on areas of compatibility and solicit information that will reveal common interests. ("I understand clearly my interests, but I doubt I understand your interests as well as I should. Let's review both of our most important issues.")
Autonomy: Decision-making freedom makes others feel like they have some control.
Grant it: Explore commitments that respect others' ability to decide important matters. ("What amount of money do you think each of us should be allowed to spend without consulting one another?")
Status: Getting (and giving) respect for one's position adds important context to the relationship.
Acknowledge it: Give full recognition of others' standing without demeaning your own. ("This is an exciting collaboration, given your expertise in picking value stocks and my track record in identifying winning mutual funds.")
Role: A fulfilling and well-defined function makes people feel more engaged.
Address it: Acknowledge the person's reason for being part of the interaction and help define his or her role. ("I really appreciate you looking for solutions to this problem; let's split up these tasks and then come back to compare notes.")
Feel free to borrow any of these lines for your next money talk, though you might want to tone down the formality a tad with a few "uhhs" and "ya knows."
Use this shortcut for more civil interactions
If you have to pour your heart into cultivating just one relationship building block, many pros agree that "appreciation" is the one to address. "We all want to feel appreciated within business, within marriage, within any relationship; empirically, the research has shown it to be true as well," says Shapiro.
Appreciation in this context doesn't mean "approval" or "gratitude" -- it's about understanding, respecting, and acknowledging the other person's point of view. Even if you don't agree with how your partner sees things, their viewpoint has merit because, quite simply, it is how they feel.
The next time you two lovebirds are dealing with a "money issue," consider Shapiro's shortcut for smooth everyday negotiations -- the A-C-B-D rule, which stands for Always Consult Before Deciding. "Do that more often and you can avoid three-fourths of conflicts," he says.
Even better, it requires no pouting, complaining, or disparaging remarks about anyone's mother.
Copyrighted, The Motley Fool. All rights reserved.