By John Morrison, M.A., CDFA
Do you tense up in negotiation? Ever experience that uneasy feeling in your gut when you go to a car dealership? As you may know, hours later you hope you made a deal that was better for you than the dealership. The same goes for Divorce; the better you can negotiate, the better the end result.
An aspect of divorce and other family conflicts that is often not much talked about is that it involves negotiation. Few of us have ever received any training in negotiation. Many of us are uncomfortable in the face of opportunities to negotiate money matters.
Bargaining is standard practice in many cultures but not in the U.S. Here our tendency is either to accept or reject financial offers or requests rather than haggle over them.
Yet we negotiate interpersonal non-financial matters all the time. Here again though, some people are comfortable engaging in dialogue to try to get what they want or reach an acceptable compromise. Many others find it emotionally challenging.
Like any skill, you only get to be good at negotiating by learning about it and then practicing it. Fortunately a lot of research has been done on the subject and there are some great books on it.
When you are divorcing one of the last things you probably feel like thinking about is assessing and improving your ability to negotiate. Yet every divorce mediation is a negotiation because a number of decisions need to be made jointly. How well you negotiate may very well affect not only the financial outcome of the divorce but how you feel about it, both in the short term and the long term. If you have children, it may well affect the nature of the co-parenting plan you develop.
The need to be a good negotiator in divorce is much less if you and your spouse still genuinely care about each others' well-being and want solutions that are respectful and fair. If however there is now a gulf between the two of you and trust or care is diminished, your ability to negotiate may well have a significant impact on the outcome.
Good negotiators are both assertive and attentive and balance the two. While not wishing to over-generalize, women tend to be attentive and men tend to be assertive. This is a good vantage point from which to begin to assess your current negotiating skills. Are you good at both, just one or neither?
My next article provides some negotiation principles which may be helpful to you.