"Moments of silence allow people to process information and to respond instead of reacting," says Earnshaw, who authored the forthcoming book I Want This To Work. "If we move too quickly, we often react to our initial feeling rather than to what was actually said or intended. By taking a moment of silence, you can explore what the other person is actually trying to say, what it is that they need, and also prepare your own share."
- Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Taking this silence allows people to maintain "relational awareness," which Earnshaw describes as the ability to recognize and honor your needs while doing the same for that of your partner.
"When people don't take the time to listen to each other, they lose relational awareness," she says. "And once relational awareness is lost it becomes so much easier to either violate ourselves or violate the other person. Without listening, we make assumptions and react. And often, we move towards agreements that we don't even fully agree to."
Additionally, a lack of relational awareness can lead to one person's wishes being dismissed. "They either bend to what is good for the other person, while dismissing their own needs or desires or they ask the other person to bend for them," says Earnshaw. "This creates an imbalance and with imbalance eventually comes resentment."
Creating space for silence is easier said than done. Most people find discomfort in silence and when you're already feeling discomfort during a discussion, it's tempting to do whatever you can to avoid more discomfort. "Silence is uncomfortable because it allows for our real feelings and thoughts to surface," says Earnshaw. "It might feel like losing control or like giving the other person the upper hand. Maybe we even worry people will think that we don't know what to say next." Negotiation shouldn't feel like a win-lose situation, she says.
"When negotiating with someone you love, start with a commitment to create a win-win agreement," says Earnshaw. "This means that you promise yourself and the other person that you are going to work together to find something that is good enough for you both and that does not violate either of your core needs."
One way to do this is by establishing the difference between must-haves and nice-to-haves. Once you've determined your must-haves, Earnshaw says to include those in whatever creative agreement you come up with. Plus, remember that it's only temporary. "Actually come up with a date to return together to find out if what you've negotiated still feels fair," she says. "When people see a solution as only temporary they are less likely to dig their heels in."
When you make space for both sides to share their needs and to process during moments of silence, you can make negotiations that are truly fair.
"Remember that the art of negotiation is not getting your way," says Earnshaw, "rather learning to come up with creative possibilities for making a new way—a way that honors you both."
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