Who gets the house? How will we divide up the 401k? Where will the children go to school? Who gets the electric mixer? Negotiation is a daily part of my life as a family law attorney. Whether an issue is big or small, I have found that listening is one of the easiest and often most effective ways to improve negotiations and achieve my client’s goals.
As we negotiate, we generally wait to spring our positions or arguments on the other side, regardless of what the other side is saying. Frankly, we do not care what the other side is saying. Let’s look at the fictional story of Kim and Steve who each want their dog, Lassie. Steve says, “I bought Lassie; I picked her out; so really she’s my dog.” Kim says, “Well, I’ve had to feed Lassie every day, and take her to the groomer and the vet, so really she’s my dog.” Steve then adds to his argument, Kim adds to hers, and both see the other as unreasonable.
Good listening involves really hearing the other person’s position and feelings. It’s most effective when you not only acknowledge that you have heard what they’re saying, but that the other person has a good point or a valid argument. Now let’s say that Steve says, “I bought Lassie, I picked her out, so really she’s my dog.” Kim responds by saying, “That’s a good point, I know how much you love Lassie. You feel that because you chose her, you ought to keep her, right?” Kim hasn’t given in, she’s just acknowledged his feelings.
Careful listening and acknowledgement of the other’s position does not always guarantee you’ll get your way in a negotiation, but it can have surprisingly powerful effects. I had a recent case in which I represented a woman who had been married for many years. The husband felt that my client was ungrateful for all he had done and was threatening to make the divorce as drawn out and painful as possible. “She should get nothing,” he said when we first sat down to negotiate. Without compromising my client’s positions, I listened to this husband and why he felt unappreciated. After only an hour of negotiations, the husband offered a generous settlement.
Everyone negotiates. Whether you negotiate with a child, an employee, or a spouse, listening can help you achieve your goals.
If you need help or advice about any family law situations you may be facing, call us at (480) 833-1113.