Fort at San Juan Puerto Rico - Photo by Carey Nieuwhof

Anger is such a difficult emotion.  The fact that someone didn’t clean up their socks or take out the trash or lied about an issue is a problem for sure.  But my response can make a bad situation worse.  It’s easy to dig in and argue hard, but that can turn a disagreement into a battle or skirmish into a war.  Especially as your kids get older.

Years ago I read the classic negotiation book Getting to Yes.  In it, the authors argue that people escalate disagreements when they focus on positions, but find common ground when they focus on interests.

We’ve all argued over positions.  It sounds like this:

I said clean up your room.

What?  My room is fine!  And besides, no parent makes their kids clean up their room to the level you want me to.  I’m not doing it.

I said clean it up.  If you don’t….

The pattern is so clear:  I say X.  You say Y.  We disagree.  I punish…you obey.  Or somebody just gives in and walks away feeling defeated.

So what if you focused the conversation on interests?  Interests are usually something we all agree on or could agree on.  As a parent, you have an interest in keeping your home reasonably clean and hygenic.  You also have a desire to grow character and responsibility in your child.

Your child may have interests you share too.  As they get older, they want a bit of freedom.  They want to be trusted.  They want some say in how they live. (Didn’t you?)

A conversation based on interests, not positions, could look something like this:

Hey, we need to talk about your room.  I think you know it’s important to keep it reasonably clean.  And I can only imagine the last thing you want is for me to come in here and tell you to clean it up right now.  Why don’t we sit down together and try to come up with a solution that works for both of us?  Let’s try to  agree on some minimal standards, and I want to make sure you have some freedom in how it comes together.

In the end, you’ll get what you desire, and likely so will your child or teen. It’s not just compromise, it’s a solution based on interests that are worth pursuing for both parties.  As your kids get older, this becomes more and more critical.

How have you been able to find common ground around interests, not positions, in your home?