By John Morrison M.A., CDFA
You're ready for the negotiation process to begin. How should you prepare so you have the best outcome possible? Here are some guidelines to a positive negotiation:
1. Assess your personal negotiating skills
Consider similar negotiations you’ve had in the past. Would you benefit from being more assertive? A better listener? Less emotional? Did you express your ideas and concerns clearly and succinctly? Taking a personal inventory in this way can help you make some appropriate adjustments.
2. Consider how you interact with your spouse
What should you do or say to ensure your spouse takes you seriously? You are probably aware of things you say that rub your spouse the wrong way. Can you avoid these topics or approach them differently? Does your spouse feel that you don’t listen to them or understand their point of view? If so, how can you do better at this – even if you don’t agree with them?
3. Identify the issues that will be addressed
Be clear about the subject of the negotiation so that you can think about it in advance. You should clarify this with your mediator well before each session. List the topics in a neutral way such as “decide what to do with our house” rather than “make sure I get the house.”
4. Identify and prioritize your interests
Your interests are the underlying things that are most important to you. In negotiation preparation, it’s good to distinguish between positions that can be taken and underlying interests. For example, a position is “I want the Honda Accord.” The underlying interest is probably something like “I need to have a safe and reliable vehicle large enough to transport the children.” Think about what really matters to you. If there are a lot of things, prioritize them. Try to free yourself from set positions so you can be more flexible in your thinking when the negotiations get underway. Knowing your real underlying interests will help you evaluate how well possible options meet your needs.
5. Think about your spouse’s interests
While you shouldn’t assume you completely understand your spouse’s interests, it’s good to consider what they probably are. This can help you take into account both points of view in advance and not just when they arise in the negotiation itself. You may even come up with some settlement ideas that might appeal to your spouse. Negotiation works best if you have some flexibility, are open to the possibility of seeing things in a new way and can step into the other person's shoes.
6. Consider the pros and cons of your alternatives to reaching agreement
If you go into a negotiation thinking you have to reach agreement no matter what, you may end up making unwise concessions. Think in advance about possible settlements, including ideally what you’d like to achieve and the worst you could live with. Consider what you could do if your spouse is really unreasonable in your view and offers you less than this. Take a break from negotiations for awhile? Hire a lawyer? Try to get what you want from court? Do something else that might your spouse's attention in a positive way? Think about the pros and cons of these options.
7. Do your homework and consider getting specialist advice
Negotiation preparation should include understanding and being prepared on the subject matters to be discussed. Do whatever homework your mediator requests. Knowledge is indeed power, or at least it will make you feel more powerful. Sometimes challenging legal, financial or parenting topics will be relevant to the negotiation. If your understanding of these topics would benefit from the input of a specialist, consider getting it as part of your negotiation preparation. Sometimes you might want to suggest to your mediator and spouse that a specialist provide their input in person in the negotiation session.