Relationships, right? Complicated. Among all the other things college students are learning, they are learning how to independently interact with others, manage their social lives, get along with roommates, and navigate sexual relationships. Part of all of those things are basic relational skills like negotiation, boundary-setting, and conflict resolution.
Different people have different needs, and forming any type of relationship involves figuring out how to get both people’s needs met as much of the time as is possible. Deciding how much one is willing to sacrifice, avoiding over-sacrificing and becoming resentful, and balancing the effort and investment of all parties requires ongoing negotiation.
Some negotiation skills include:
- Self-awareness about what is crucial to your own happiness and comfort, and what is optional
- Willingness to compromise about the optional things
- Openness to hearing the other person’s needs and wants
- Problem-solving and offering creative ways to meet others’ needs
- Tolerance of discomfort
- Be clear and specific about what you’re asking for or agreeing to (“I will text you at least one hour in advance if I am bringing someone to our room;” “I would like each of us to sweep the floor two times per month”)
- Willingness to advocate for one’s self
- Focus on negotiating behaviors (cleaning the bathroom once a week, turning off music at midnight) rather than attitudes (don’t be mad at me, stop liking rap music)
- Avoid accusing or insulting the other person
- Cooperate to solve the problems; don’t make the other person your opponent
Living in close proximity with others inevitably leads to conflict. It’s also important to be aware that a discussion may feel like conflict to you, and feel like simple negotiation for another person, or vice versa.
When tempers flare or needs conflict with each other, conflict resolution skills are needed:
- Like negotiation, openness, curiosity, and good listening are crucial to resolving conflict
- Try to resolve conflicts when everyone is relatively calm – it’s okay to take a break if emotions are running too high
- If you agree to take a break and resume the discussion later, take the initiative and bring it up again when you feel calm
- Use “I” statements to avoid accusations and hurt feelings. “I need an orderly environment to feel creative, and I want to find a way we can work on that” goes over a lot better than “You’re such a slob, you never clean up after yourself”
- The goal of conflict resolution is everyone feeling heard and trust being repaired. Keep the goal in mind as you decide what to say and how to say it
- When someone feels hurt by you (which often manifests as anger), try to focus on resolving their pain. Even if you feel defensive and want to explain your intentions, try to make that secondary to attending to the damage. If you accidentally bump into someone and they fall down the stairs, it’s far more important to do first aid than it is to make sure they know you didn’t knock them over on purpose.
Finally, good boundaries are key to healthy relationships. Personal boundaries are guidelines or limits that you create in order to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to act toward you, and how you respond when someone crosses those lines. Identifying our own boundaries takes time, considerable thought, and often some trial and error to see what feels comfortable for us and what doesn’t. Steps to identify, set, and maintain good boundaries:
- Pay attention to your own emotional responses to events and consider what situations make you feel unsafe, stressed, or hurt
- You have the right to set any boundary you feel is necessary; other people do not have to agree with it. That said, considering what feels reasonable to ask of others might reduce conflict in your life and widen your tolerance for people different from you.
- Identify your boundaries (I don’t answer the phone after 11, I don’t want to feel pressured to drink, I don’t have sex without protection, I expect others to speak calmly and not yell during conflicts, etc.)
- Be direct and clear when communicating your boundaries to others. You do not need to give a reason or defend yourself. If others object, just say “I prefer [boundary] in my relationships, and I need you to respect that if you want a relationship with me.”
- Prioritize your own needs and comfort over others’ discomfort with your boundaries. It is okay if they feel rejected in order for you to feel safe.
- Enforce your boundaries consistently. Once you’ve set a limit, that’s the limit.
- If you’re uncomfortable setting boundaries, try something small at first. Learning to identify and communicate boundaries is a skill that takes practice.
Good Boundaries free you
Sarri Gilman | TEDxSnolsleLibraries