Excerpted from Between Love And Hate: A Guide To Civilized Divorce
By Lois Gold, M.S.W. (Penguin USA 1996)
This is the third in a series of articles by Lois
Gold, author of Between Love And Hate:
A Guide To Civilized Divorce.
In this article, an excerpt from
Chapter 12, Lois provides negotiation tips. Although it is written for
separating or divorcing couples, the principles are applicable to any disputants who have had or
will continue to have a relationship.
Whether you are working on your divorce settlement or are divorced and dealing with the myriad of negotiations around arrangements for the children, often what you are actually doing is bargaining. The more you understand the basics of bargaining, the more strategically you can plan your negotiating moves, whether it be for the equity in the house or for a different weekend with the children. Below are some basic strategies which should help improve your chances of getting what you want.
15 Steps To More Successful “Business” Meetings
Here are some very practical guidelines to help structure your business meetings. These guidelines should be helpful whether you are having a major business meeting or just discussing everyday arrangements.
1. Schedule a specific time. Agree before you start how long the meeting will be. Structure makes difficult discussions feel more manageable. For example, you can say: “I need fifteen minutes to discuss the medical bills, etc., when is a good time for you?”
2. Create an agenda and stick with it point by point. This keeps the meeting more businesslike and less personal.
3. Do not try to discuss your relationship or use the meeting to influence your partner’s feelings about the marriage.
4. Do your homework. Get the information you need — exact values, costs, or work schedules before the meeting. Do not come unprepared. Have the information to support any new requests you make.
5. Develop a realistic picture your financial situation. Prepare budgets of the fixed expenses for each household, the joint debts, look at the gross and net incomes and see what kind of money for variable expenses and discretionary spending is actually available. Many conflicts over money can be prevented by honestly reviewing budgets together at an early point,
6. Designate any red flags or loaded issues on your list–those feelings or issues which require great sensitivity in handling.
7. You can assign one of you as meeting facilitator to help make sure the discussion stays on track and the agenda is followed. Rotate this task. If you choose this technique, the facilitator’s job is to:
1. Write down the agenda.
2. Keep the discussion focused on one issue at a time.
3. Periodically summarize the progress: where there is agreement and where things are bogged down, or need further information, etc.
4. Keep mutual goals and concerns in focus.
8. Use businesslike communication as discussed in Chapter 10. Use note taking to help maintain a businesslike focus.
9. Before beginning a discussion, summarize the points of agreement and disagreement about the issues under discussion. For example: we agree there will be family support for you to finish your degree, but there is no agreement about support beyond those three years.
10. Start with the easier issues. Success builds on success.
11. Introduce difficult issues by giving an acknowledgement or expressing appreciation. “I am very pleased with how we have been handling the credit card problems, but there are some new expenses related to the house.”
12. Be sensitive to timing. Take breaks in the discussion to think things over or to regain composure. Don’t continue a meeting that is no longer productive. Say that you think you have gone as far as you can go today or that perhaps you are just not ready to deal with a particular issue. Schedule another meeting.
13. Don’t pressure your spouse into immediate decisions. Take the time think about new ideas or proposals. New information tends to become more comfortable over time.
14. If you cannot agree on all points, settle on those on which you do agree. Do not allow the fact that you don’t have full agreement to negate the decisions you have already reached.
15. Write down all agreements and plans. Don’t try to trust your memory.
Unfortunately, even the most well intended business discussions get sidetracked because tensions are high and tempers flare. Most people don’t know what to say to cool things down again. There are specific statements mediators make to ease tension and keep a discussion from escalating into an argument. These are skills that any good negotiator must have. You can easily apply these techniques to your own discussion. Study this list and practice saying things like this in your business discussions, particularly when things heat up. If you appoint one person meeting facilitator, part of his role would be to diffuse the tension and hostility by using these phrases.
Restate your goals and desire for agreement: “I really want to work this out; I want to be on civilized terms with you and be able to talk afterwards; I want the children to still have both of us as parents.”
Restate areas of agreement however small: “Even though we are stuck now, we have made progress on how to deal with back taxes, etc.”
Emphasize mutual concerns: “We both want to avoid court; we both want to reduce stress for the children; we both want to come out of this with enough money to live on.”
Restate superordinate goals: “We know above all else that our primary concern is the welfare of the children. We both want them to have a good life despite our problems.”
Redirect accusations from the past into requests for the future: “Blaming is not helping, how shall we handle notification of school events in the future?”
Be aware of opportunities to compliment spouse or express appreciation: “I appreciate the work you put into organizing our financial statement; I appreciate how reasonable you are being even though you are very upset by this; I think you handled that situation with Johnny very well.”
Ease tension with humor: Lighten things up from time to time by laughing at yourselves.
Now that you have a sense of your negotiating style, how to set up productive business meetings, and ease the tension in those meetings, we are ready to move on to the fundamentals of negotiating agreements.