Negotiation Strategies

Clients often ask me what they should say during settlement discussions in order to be effective and persuasive.  I always tell them that they should first do their negotiation homework.  I mean that, before the negotiation, they must identify the topics to be discussed (i.e. “alimony, child support, and time-sharing”).  Then, for each topic, the client must determine their range of acceptable solutions.  For example, the non-custodial parent might decide that the minimum s/he will pay is the amount determined by the child support guidelines, and the maximum is the child support guidelines plus half the cost of extra-curricular activities, half the cost of summer camp, 70% of SAT tutoring, and 70% of college tuition.

So, once you’re at the negotiation table, how do you get your spouse to agree to a solution that is within your range of agreeable solutions?  When you state your proposal to your spouse, substantiate it with three supporting arguments.  Psychologists have found that people respond well to arguments grouped in three.  For example, you could state, “I am only willing to pay child support in the amount of $1,000 per month for the following three reasons.  First, $1,000 per month is $150 more than the child support guidelines propose.  Second, I give our child an allowance of $15/per week directly to her, which she uses to buy accessories and snacks.  Third, I am giving you 60% of the value of the marital home.”

And what if your spouse has a negative response to your proposal?  Let’s say your spouse’s vitriolic response includes personal attacks, curse words, and heightened volume.  To respond to vitriol and deescalate the conversation, use “I” statements.  An “I” statements takes the following form: “I feel ______ when ______ because _______.”  If your spouse attacks you, you might say, “I felt attacked by that statement because it was personally hurtful and because I don’t think it moves us toward an agreement.”  You will be surprised at the effectiveness of an “I” statement response. 

These strategies take practice, but they will keep you calm and confident and ultimately make your spouse more likely to agree to your ideas.  They also work in non-legal negotiations!