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Interest-Based Negotiating For Parents And Teens

by Lorraine Segal
February 2011

From Lorraine Segal's Conflict Remedy Blog

Lorraine Segal
Mother hugging teen son after resolving conflict.

Although it may sound like something only for unions or businesses, interest based negotiating is a cornerstone of improving communication and resolving conflict in personal relationships, including those between parents and teens.

When we are in relationship conflict, we all generally have our own story about who or what is causing the problem and how to solve it. We may be convinced that our proposal is the only viable solution, but the other person in the disagreement rarely sees the situation that way.

When we get fixated on this one solution, we close off the possibility of other options that could work.

For example, I worked with one mother and young teenaged son who were locked into a negative communication pattern. Every day, when the son came home from school, the mother asked him a series of questions about school and homework.

She wanted the information in order to be a good, proactive parent. But he he bitterly resented her “interrogation” and often angrily refused to answer. She became very frustrated and their interaction escalated, getting worse over time.

With some gentle questions and support , they were able to share their underlying interests with me, but neither one of them could detach from the negative cycle enough to see other options.

I offered them a suggestion: that they put together a checklist to address the mother’s questions. When her son came home, she could hand it to him and he could fill it out. The mother could follow up if needed.

Their faces relaxed, and the son volunteered, unprompted, to create the form on their computer.They were relieved and amazed that they were both able to get what they wanted. The mother could get the needed information without triggering her son, breaking free of the pattern that wasn’t serving them.

If you are reaching an impasse with a teenager, ask:

  • Am I stuck on one solution that isn’t working?
  • What do I really want and need here?
  • What does the teenager really want and need?(Hint: You can make guesses and check them out if asking doesn’t work.)
  • What other possible options would meet both our needs?

With some openness, practice, and a lot of careful listening you and your teen can start generating creative solutions that work for everyone.


Lorraine Segal is a certified Conflict Management coach and teacher, specializing in communication and conflict resolution in the workplace. For many years a middle manager and tenured community college professor, she has her own business, Conflict Remedy LLC.

In her organizational consulting, classes, and coaching, she helps people learn new skills, get “unstuck” from negative stories, and shift their patterns of thinking and reacting so they can learn to: communicate clearly, resolve conflict effectively, and contribute to a more harmonious and productive workplace.

She currently teaches at Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College, and St. Joseph Health Life Learning Center (Memorial Hospital) and works with various businesses and organizations. 

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