Clients who know how to: negotiate, keep emotions in check, and use words to get their points across, seem to do better during the divorce process and beyond. Part of my work as a divorce coach is to pay close attention to how clients react when they are getting what they want and when they are not. As we engage in conversation and negotiations to craft a divorce agreement, different clients respond differently to the various outcomes they encounter while tackling the difficult issues (i.e.-what happens to the house, when will the kids spend time in each household, how will personal property be divided…).
Some clients fall into silence when negotiations are not going their way while others “act out”: Make negative comments/snipe at their spouse, abruptly call a halt to all discussion to demand a “my way or the highway” solution or impulsively cancel all further sessions thus losing all opportunities to settle amicably. Each of these styles suggests that tremendous frustration, hopelessness, and upset is being experienced on the part of the client(s), maybe so much so that they feel they must DO something. Unfortunately, none of these behaviors is a true solution to address the problems at hand.
Here are some productive ways clients can learn to negotiate better and create fair, solid divorce agreements that they and their families can live with.
1. BREAK IT DOWN. Some topics are so emotional and overwhelming that more than one attempt to address it will be needed. For one couple I worked with, the issue of which parent was going to have the kids on Mondays was enormous. Both parents worked full time and in their minds, Monday would be the deciding day as to whether Mom or Dad had the children for more or less of the week and was the “better parent”. What seemed to underlie this decision was each client’s concerns about how well they could individually juggle the child-oriented decision making, shopping, feeding, transporting and other childcare duties of having the kids with them for not only the extra day, but for any day. After taking a short recess to help the clients calm down a bit, we were able to break this down into a series of smaller practical decisions related to parenting solo and addressed theses one by one. This helped both clients stay focused, have a chance to weigh in on what they hoped for and feared, and to manage the strong feelings they both had about the issues.
2. LOSE “THE ALL OR NOTHING” THINKING. It is always a surprise when I see otherwise intelligent and successful clients get stuck in rigid “all or nothing” thinking. I hear a lot of, “Well, if I can’t have this, then I quit” and “If you don’t say yes to this, then don’t expect anything on that”. This simply isn’t how good negotiations work. Clients do best when they are willing to be flexible. All hope, truly, is not lost if something or other doesn’t go my way (or yours). It just means we have to work a little harder now to figure out how to reinstate the sense that the negotiations are balanced or fair. There is always another issue to discuss and decide on that will restore each clients sense that they are getting enough.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Learn what you can about how Massachusetts divorce laws work (or your states divorce laws). Study up on the reputations, writings, and style of the divorce professionals (coaches, collaborative attorneys, mediators) that you are considering. Ask enough questions and do enough reading to feel satisfied that you have picked the right divorce process and the right person(s). The more discussion, brainstorming, bargaining, and negotiation opportunities your process includes (generally when working with a coach, collaborative attorneys or a mediator/co-mediators) the more say you will have in exactly what is included in your divorce agreement. Remember that these decisions will effect you and your children for years to come so choose your process and professionals wisely.
4. TRUST THE PROFESSIONALS. Skillful divorce coaches, mediators, and collaborative attorneys understand that part of their responsibility in divorce negotiations is to make certain that neither client gets too much or too little. Unfair agreements are not good for families, children, or for individuals. Too often, when agreements aren’t thorough, thoughtful, and fair, clients wind up back in court engaging in protracted battles and unhealthy struggles. If you later opt to go into court to slug it out and have the judge decide, it is practically guaranteed that everybody (especially your kids) will suffer.
5. BE PATIENT. Don’t give up too quickly if you are not getting what you want. Again, this is a process of give and take and balance is key. If you did not get enough of what you hoped for on one issue, discuss with the professional(s) you are working with how important it is in your mind that things balance out based on the next issue or set of issues. It’s the balance and fairness of the overall agreement that is important and that makes it likely a judge will approve it.
6. CIRCLE BACK. If neither of you can agree on a particular issue always agree not to get hung up there; just table it and come back to it at another time. It is amazing how a different day can bring a whole different way of thinking about an issue. This really works
Divorcing clients who learn how to negotiate well can create agreements that stick and even use these skills in other areas to be more successful.
Divorcing women can learn and practice new ways to get their points across and get what they want and need at the Divorce and Renewal Spa Bootcamp Weekend on April 21st and 22nd at the Norwich Spa and Inn. With over 12 hours of participatory workshops (plus spa treatments, NIA exercise class, gourmet dining and more) women will leave the Spa Bootcamp weekend with a brand new “toolkit” filled with practical tips and having practiced new skills to tackle the divorce transition and beyond! visit divorceandrenewal.com to learn more and to register.