Whenever Diana, a working woman in India, tried to persuade her husband that it wasn't fair to make her pay all of the household expenses, she was told, "Let us be considerate, we will do it my way."
Eventually, she went looking for advice.
Her unlikely source: Steven Cohen, president and chief executive of the Negotiation Skills Company, based in Beverly, Mass. Mr Cohen was tapped a few months ago by a women's online magazine, based in India, to dish out advice to readers like Diana about negotiating in a male-dominated business and cultural environment.
The editors of RedForWomen.com discovered Cohen through his Web site (www.negotiationskills.com), which he says is regularly used as an information tool by people in 78 countries. Cohen says the site led the editors to believe that he knew something about navigating the multicultural corporate world. They also liked how he distilled negotiation advice into universal elements - stripping it of the typical white-collar jargon.
"The fundamental approach to negotiation is basic," he says. "Listen first, and understand the ideas of all parties involved before negotiating for your own interests."
Cohen says he has seen a growth in the past decade in the number of people offering negotiation advice, thanks to an increasingly global economy, the Internet, and changes in the workforce - where dogmatic managers can no longer be expected to lead people successfully. Of course, he cautions, there are also a lot of negotiation-advice impostors out there simply sniffing out the new market, and whose quality of advice can be found lacking.
Cohen now writes a weekly column on negotiation skills for RedForWomen. He also answers questions from subscribers.
Cohen's advice to Diana: "Think about the interests of the people who have something to derive from the outcome of your joint decision: yourself, your husband, children, relatives on both sides, etc." If you were to run out of money, he asks, who would pay for the children's education, major household repairs, or your relatives in the event they suddenly became financially dependent on you? "If he is not prepared to be helpful, what will that do to his image among his friends and colleagues."
Then ask open-ended questions (not answerable with a tacit "yes" or "no") to learn which concerns are most likely to catch your husband's attention. "Listen carefully to his answers and don't react. Silence is far more likely to make a person think than a swift, emotional reaction."
Finally, "think of what bargaining chips are available to you. For example, if you accept household-expense responsibility, what will he contribute to assets that will be available to you when you cease employment?"
"Think of why a person is pursuing whatever their objective is, rather than what their objective is," he adds.
Cohen's final bits of negotiation advice? Go into a decisionmaking process with the belief you are a decent person who deserves respect. And, if applicable, recognize cultural norms that may get in the way of communicating.
He once had a Chinese student say his class was like McDonald's (meaning well-run, he hopes). "But I had to understand it was a compliment from her and not laugh; otherwise she would have been terribly offended."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society