Aside from the annual airing of “Die Hard,” Most of us do not consider the holiday season to be a time where one must utilize the art of negotiation.
The fact of the matter is, there is a lot of negotiating that goes on from right after Halloween to the beginning of the new year, you’re just not shouting demands from one side of a closed-door or into a walkie-talkie while hostages look on in fear.
Or maybe you do. I don’t know your life.
The holiday season is a lot of things, both positive and negative, but the unifying theme is, “Aaaaah!!!” (Screamed with joy, excitement, pain, stress, or all of the above.). There are places to go and people to see. There are holiday concerts and pageants and parties. Let’s not even talk about gift-giving.
Even the holliest, jolliest of us can feel a bit burnt out and even, dare I say, resentful during the season due to the many and varied obligations that pile up. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but at the same time, we want to be able to fully enjoy the season in a way that may not allow us to be all things to all people.
The struggle is real.
Unless you practice setting boundaries. Hence the negotiating.
How many of you felt your blood pressure rise after reading that sentence?
If you contend with general or social anxiety, the idea of having to “negotiate” anything will send your symptoms right up your ARC from Aware, past Alert, and into ALARM!
Negotiations conjure up images of intense back and forths that may increase in intensity as demands and time pass. There is always a winner and a loser. A good guy and a bad guy.
That, my friends, is black or white thinking; a cognitive distortion. An anxiety All-Star.
The reason why the idea of negotiating makes some people uncomfortable is that it is seen in the same light as giving an ultimatum. Or as a gateway to an argument.
It doesn’t have to be that cut and dry. What if I told you that there was a way for even the most conflict-averse of us to negotiate that will leave you feeling good afterward, even if you don’t get exactly what you want?
The V.A.S.E. technique is an effective way to negotiate productively. VASE is an acronym for Validate, Ask, Suggest, and Express*.
Validate, meaning, show that you see where the other person is coming from, their ‘stance’, and then explain where you are coming from.
Ask for a compromise. Is there any way for both of you to get what you want?
Suggest alternatives. Are there things that you are willing to give up? Remember compromise is not losing. Getting part of what you initially ask for is better than nothing.
Express yourself. Use a kind tone when talking with the other person instead of being angry, aggressive…or anxious.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that you and your family realize that you really enjoyed the smaller, more intimate Christmas that you had to have due to Covid, and therefore have decided that for the time being, you’d love to have Christmas Day to yourselves.
You realize that you didn’t miss having to pry the kids away from their gifts, make them dress nice, pack yourselves into the car, and travel to a family member’s house for a few hours or an overnight.
You’re not interested in practicing the chaotic time management involved in having lunch at your aunt’s and then dinner with the in-laws.
You love the idea, but you know it’s going to go over like a lead balloon with your extended fam. At best, there will be passionate attempts to change your mind, at worst hurt feelings.
The mere idea of conflict is causing your stomach to do backflips and your heart to race. So, try using the VASE Technique.
Validate by telling your well-intentioned relatives that you understand the importance of getting the family together for the holiday, especially after the past couple of years. Let them know that you get it, your family not coming is a bummer but for the time being, you want to spend the day focusing on your nuclear family as time is flying and these moments will be fewer and farther between.
Ask if it’s possible to Facetime or Zoom with relatives that day at a specific time. Offer to be the person who arranges that part of the day, setting the time and sending the links. Maybe even walking Grandma through the process. That way you can see all of the relatives while still staying home with your family.
Suggest getting together either Christmas Eve or some other time during the holiday when everyone is available. Offer to host a lunch or dinner at your house.
Express Make sure you explain your reasons while also being empathetic to your family’s point of view. Try not to be guilted, (“This may be grandma’s last Christmas.”) or bullied.
This may feel like a Herculean task, especially if you are someone whose anxiety symptoms increase at the slightest hint of potential conflict, but if you are intentional in carrying out this technique it will feel more like a conversation than a negotiation.
The most important thing for those of us who struggle with these conversations is practice, practice, practice!
Write out and read over your talking points beforehand. Going over your side of the conversation until you can almost recite it from memory will help you remove excessive emotion from your tone, and keep those heart palpitations at bay.
Try role-playing with another person. Ask your partner or best friend to play the role of the other party you will be talking to. You can even encourage them to come at you with the arguments to your points so that you work through your response and get your emotions in check.
Play out your worst-case scenarios when it comes to your conversation and create a counter for any and all potential arguments. Decide before you even schedule the convo what you are willing to compromise on and where you need to stand firm. That way, you are completely prepared for whatever is thrown at you.
Remember that the bottom line to the negotiation process is that both parties walk away feeling good about themselves, but you also want to be aware of boundaries. Bend, but don’t break.
Most importantly, do not forget that this is not a contentious discussion. You should present your ideas in a way that shows the other person that you are listening to them, you understand their position, and that you want the same from them.
The VASE technique is a valuable tool to develop that can be used in all aspects of your life where boundaries need to be placed. It taps into the ability to show empathy to the other party while respecting your own needs and requirements.
Most importantly, you don’t need to crawl through ceiling ducts in Nakatomi Tower while wearing a tank top and no shoes in order to save your holiday.
*Thanks to the always informative “Between Sessions” for the information regarding the VASE technique.