Expert tips for successful negotiation at home: insights from Emily Epstein

May 5, 2023

Silvia Vieira

graphic illustration of a couple playing tug of war

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Emily Epstein, a renowned negotiation expert and the founder and CEO of Oakbay Consulting. Emily has spent years helping clients across four continents break through impasse, build stronger relationships, and negotiate for more value. In this exclusive interview, she shares her insights into why successful negotiations at home are so critical. Her practical tips for negotiating at home are invaluable for anyone looking to improve their relationships and communication skills at home.

1. Why is negotiation an important skill for managing a home?

Some people think of negotiation as a formal conversation that lawyers have across a conference table. But really, negotiation is any attempt to persuade someone, so we negotiate at home all the time. We negotiate over who washes the dishes, how often the dishes get washed, and whether “washing the dishes” includes wiping off countertops. Some of us grew up drying dishes and putting them away after dinner every night, while others leave dishes in a drying rack. Some of us think every member of the house should wash each dish as soon as they finish using it, and some of us prefer to tackle a stack of dishes at one time. Every time we talk to each other about how and when to do these tasks, we are negotiating. 

If we are too scared to tackle these conversations, problems get bigger and bigger until they usually explode. On the other hand, if we tackle these conversations poorly, they can harm our relationships or fail to solve the problem. Our ability to negotiate well at home has a huge impact on our health, our comfort, and our relationships.  

2. What are some of the top challenges you’ve observed when it comes to gender and negotiation?

We all grew up in a sexist society, so we all hold gendered expectations of people, whether we are conscious of these expectations or not. We often expect women to be accommodating, caring, and collaborative. When women assert themselves, we punish them for violating our expectations. We may get angry, we may offer them less in negotiations, and we may even end our relationships with them. These patterns are not an evil conspiracy perpetuated by men; men, women, and non-binary people are all prone to these kinds of reactions. 

These problems are exacerbated at home, where many people still expect women to do the majority of the housework. In heterosexual couples in which she earns the only income, and he is unemployed – on average, she is still handling the majority of the housework! Studies show that young couples do not necessarily divide the housework any more equitably than older couples. Young boys are still assigned fewer household chores than young girls, and women are held to a higher standard than men for their house’s cleanliness. 

Are there exceptions to these rules? Of course! Some households are perfectly egalitarian. In some households, men take on the majority of the domestic responsibilities. In some households, women are thrilled with the current division of labor. If that describes your household, that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, that’s not the situation for most people. 

3. What does effective negotiation look like in the home?

For men negotiating at home, the advice is simple: step up! Offer to do more. Even if you think you’re doing your share….you’re probably not. Check in with your housemates often about how they see the division of labor. Use an app like Coexist to track what is getting done and by whom. Don’t rely on your own perceptions of what’s fair. If you’re wondering why you would want to take on more household tasks than you have to, there are abstract benefits like feeling more ownership and comfort in your own home. There are also concrete benefits like more sex.   

For women and non-binary people, start by assessing what you want and why. Do you have different standards for cleanliness than the people around you? Are you tired of a particular task? Do you feel like the division of labor is unfair? Then, choose a time and a place for the conversation when the other person is likely to be relaxed, well rested, and well fed. Share a few sentences about your experience, ask for their thoughts, and listen to their responses. Try to understand not just “what” they want but “why” they want it. Show them that you understand their perspective and share more about your “why.” Invite them to brainstorm solutions with you that will work for everyone in the house. Consider using an app or other tool to gather objective data about the current situation and compare that to your ideal. Make a plan to check in often and monitor how any agreements you make are working for everyone. 

You may have noticed that the advice for women and non-binary people is more complicated than the advice for men. If you’re like me, it may make you angry that men don’t have to work as hard to approach these negotiations. So do something about it! Ask less of the women in your home. Ask more of the men. If you find yourself responding angrily to a woman’s request, stop and reconsider your biases. Don’t make them do this extra work. 

4.What books or resources do you recommend for people looking to become better negotiators?

“Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher is a classic for a reason. “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” can also help you tackle tough discussions with more confidence and comfort. 

5. What’s the best advice you’ve heard for improving negotiation skills?

I teach semester-long courses on the answer to this question! We also offer shorter workshops online or in person. If you would like to attend a workshop where you can learn more about how to negotiate well, reach out to us at

Negotiating well at home is everyone’s responsibility. You can’t postpone these conversations for long without causing resentment and conflict. Even if these conversations have felt difficult in the past, you can learn how to improve them. Today is a great day to practice negotiating. Good luck! 

Thank you for joining us in this conversation with Emily Epstein. We hope you found her insights on negotiating at home as helpful as we did. To put them into practice, consider using the Coexist app as a tool to identify areas for improvement in the division of household responsibilities with your family or housemates.

More about Emily:

Emily F. Epstein specializes in teaching people how to negotiate for more value, manage difficult conversations, and facilitate challenging discussions. Ms. Epstein has been invited by organizations on five continents to help them overcome protracted challenges, from boosting the profitability of a Fortune 500 company to reducing the global use of child soldiers. Ms. Epstein is currently a lecturer of law at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and a senior instructor at Harvard’s Professional Development Programs.

Coexist is an app designed to help couples and roommates plan, coordinate, and remember housework. You can collaborate on meal plans, recurring tasks, and share notes - all in one place.