Negotiation: An Important Life Skill for Divorcing Women and Everyone Else
Negotiation presents a positive option for anyone facing a dispute. The dispute can be big or small. It can involve any kind of a problem in any setting. It is a gentler, less contentious approach to conflict resolution. Instead of digging in your heels for the sake of proving you are right or focusing on getting every single thing you want, you can choose to negotiate. The goal of negotiation is for two or more parties to solve a problem between them through compromise. It requires that the participants have more interest in finding a fair solution than fighting to win. No matter how difficult relationships may be, if people are committed to solving a problem in a reasonable and thoughtful way, it is possible for them to find a mutually acceptable agreement. In this respect, one could say that in the end, everyone wins.
That being said, negotiation is not easy, especially if the people involved are getting a divorce. It requires that both individuals make a commitment to a fair process. To achieve this, each must be willing to listen respectfully to the other. Listening with empathy without interrupting or criticizing is critical. This is easier said than done since so often, people who are dealing with conflict resolution may already have angry feelings. During discussions, they may be tempted to get defensive or start an argument.
To successfully negotiate, they need to be able to control and manage their feelings. Basic ground rules such as staying on topic, no blaming, no listing the other person’s mistakes, no threats, no intimidation and no yelling may be needed. In addition, for each person, self management techniques such as “self-talk” (thinking phrases such as “I don’t need to prove myself here.” or “I can stay calm.”) or the practice of a calming breathing technique before speaking can be helpful. Ideally, during negotiations each person is able to maintain an assertive attitude. standing up for her/his rights while remaining flexible, honest, direct, appropriate and respectful of the other person’s rights.
Let’s say for our purposes, you and whomever you have a dispute with are both good candidates to negotiate. Before you actually start negotiating, each of you should develop your own definition of the problem that needs to be solved. Each of you should also have clearly thought out short-term (what needs to happen immediately) and long-term (what a final solution might look like) goals. Expect that your problem definitions and goals may be quite different. Using all of your self-restraint, flexibility and good listening skills, you and your negotiating partner need to come up with just one problem definition. Together, you need to discuss, clarify and re-frame until you are both satisfied with how you define the problem.
The next challenge is determining how much overlap there is between the two of you regarding your short-term and long-term goals. Summarize and emphasize points of agreement. Using the same self-restraint, flexibility, good listening skills and assertive attitude, consider whether a compromise is necessary. Together, can you find a way for each of you to get exactly what you want? It is rare that this happens. However, it certainly is a wonderful relief when it does.
If it is just not possible for each of you to get exactly what you want, short-term or long-term, then you need to work together to list several fair compromises/solutions. This may take brainstorming. Open your mind. Consider all possible solutions. Focus on those which are most likely to bring about a satisfactory, fair and mutually agreeable conclusion for both of you.
However, remember to stand up for yourself. In your own mind, you need to be very clear not only about what you want, but also about what you absolutely need. Want and need certainly do overlap. Wanting can cover everything. Needing is much more specific. It is that critical factor which has to be part of the agreement for you to feel comfortable and satisfied at the end of your negotiations. You can give up a lot, if you get what you need. Remember, be flexible but, be clear and assertive about what you need.
If no acceptable compromise is immediately evident, agree to take a break and meet again. Some people limit their negotiation discussions to 30 or 60 minutes at a time. They expect to meet a few times before they are done. Others just stick with it until they are finished. As long as you are able to respectfully talk and work out your differences, the time table doesn’t matter. What is important is that in the end, you each believe that you gained enough of what is important to you so you can walk away feeling satisfied and that your agreement is acceptable and fair. If you are one of the rare people able to negotiate a divorce agreement on your own, remember, before signing anything, it is still very important to run the final agreement by your attorney.
If emotions are running too high or your situation is too complicated to negotiate yourself, you might consider mediation. In mediation, you work with a professional mediator who is trained to help the parties stay focused and calm so they can reach an acceptable and fair agreement. For readers who are interested, “divorce mediation” will be the topic of one of my upcoming articles.
Again, 1:1 negotiation is not for everyone, especially not all couples going through a divorce. However, the qualities it requires: emotional calmness, flexibility, respect, good listening, and assertiveness, are good to cultivate. After all, in today’s world, we are faced with many opportunities to resolve conflicts, big and small. Understanding and being able to apply some of the basic tenets of negotiation can help us at work, at home and in our neighborhood.