Negotiation Principles

By John Morrison M.A, CDFA

Divorcing and divorce mediation necessarily involve negotiation. Three negotiation principles that should help you increase your effectiveness in divorce discussions with your spouse are:

1. Prepare for the negotiation.

One of the best predictors of negotiation success is preparation. Gather the relevant facts. Think in advance about what is important to you and to your spouse. Consider what you can do to make the discussions productive. Imagine different possible settlement scenarios that you could be accept.

2. Adopt a collaborative style.

A collaborative negotiating style has been shown to be the most effective in getting acceptable, fair agreements. Negotiators who adopt this style are respectful, clear and not wishy-washy when talking about their points of view. But they also listen attentively to the other side to try to understand what is important to them. Their proposals then try to meet everyone’s needs and not just their own. It can be challenging to be both assertive and attentive. It takes a fairly high level of composure and often takes practice.

By contrast, a competitive negotiating style is aggressive and tries to win the negotiation. It may bowl over a weak opponent but it is alienating.

A cooperative style is characterized by being very open to what the other side has to say but also by being rather tentative in expressing your points of view. This style risks getting an outcome in which your concerns are not as well met as with a collaborative style.

3. Use an interest-based approach.

Effective negotiators use their communication and problem-solving skills to work collaboratively in a mutual search for solutions that will meet the underlying needs and concerns of both sides.

The interest-based approach was popularized by what is probably the most famous book on negotiation, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury. In this approach, it is advised not to take the initial expressed positions (requests or demands) of each side overly seriously. Instead find out what is really important to each spouse. Then work together to come up with proposals that will meet these underlying interests as well as possible.

Applying these negotiation principles will improve your chances of reaching a fair and workable result. It should also help make the process itself fair, comprehensive and satisfying. If you are working with a divorce mediator, most mediators will help you apply these principles in the mediation sessions. In subsequent posts I will provide more information on negotiation preparation, the interest-based approach and bargaining.

John Morrison

As a divorce mediator and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, I help individuals & couples understand the financial implications of divorce and complete their divorce out of court.

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