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Today I’m going to share with you my method for dealing with my son’s emotional outbursts. He is 9 years old now and he already experiences (and I with him) his fair share of them.
This method never failed me. Not even a single time. Due to its simplicity it is also one of my favorite negotiation techniques.
I first learned about this technique from one of the best books on negotiation I’ve ever read — Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman.
Deepak Malhotra is a Professor at the Harvard Business School, where he teaches Negotiation courses to MBA and Executive students. Max H. Bazerman is Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the Co-Director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Max’s research focuses on decision making, negotiation, and ethics.
According to the book Deepak’s martial arts instructor gave him an important advice regarding how to block a kick or a punch. He said “The best block is don’t be there.”
The best thing for you to do, then, is to keep your composure and help her change her beliefs.
In other words, when you try to stop someone’s physical attack with your own physical maneuver (a block), you are pitting power against power — and the stronger party will have an advantage. But if you can sidestep the attack, you will avoid the hit, retain your balance, and remain in control of the situation.
The same is true when it comes to emotion in negotiation. When the other side is angry, do not allow yourself to be the target by taking it personally. Instead, understand that her anger is a natural consequence of her beliefs. If she believed differently, she would not be angry.
The best thing for you to do, then, is to keep your composure and help her change her beliefs. Sidestepping emotions is certainly not easy — especially when the other side is launching personal attacks and seems intent on provoking a response.
Now, here’s how I use this technique with my son.
Whenever my son gets angry with me “for no reason” (clearly not how he views it) I remove myself from this situation. I don’t argue, I don’t explain myself, I don’t reason with him, I don’t plead, I don’t attack, I don’t get mad. None of it.
Simply, I do nothing. In other words, I’m not there.
As long as he is in this fight mode the worst thing I can do is to let him provoke me and get into fight with him.
Whether I did something wrong or not, whether he is right or wrong, whether I have a good point or not — none of it matters at this moment. I simply forget about everything and for a while (usually 10 to 20 minutes, but sometimes it can take much longer) I let him vent, be alone, whatever he needs. I recognize the fact that he is mad at something (something triggered his outburst) and I let him regain his composure without making judgments or excuses, arguing, pleading, reasoning, etc.
Nothing will ever work when he (or anybody else) is mad. As long as he’s thinking that I wronged him he will want to launch counterattacks and try to provoke me. As long as he is in this fight mode the worst thing I can do is to let him provoke me and get into fight with him.
Meanwhile we both have time to think about this situation. What went wrong, why it happened, etc.
After a while we both regain composure, hug and can talk again. Whether or not I feel that he had no reason for blaming me I’m always approachable — as if nothing happened. I’m not trying to make it hard for him (us) to reconnect or bury the hatchet. I think that’s a big mistake people make in such situations. Like they wanted to say “You think you can come to me just like that after you’d overreacted?” It always makes bonding much more difficult.
That’s when we can try to explain what happened, offer apologies, and discuss some issues or solutions for the future.
To read more from Lukasz Laniecki, check out his blog My Game, where shares his personal viewpoint on a healthy parent-child relationship.