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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.Peter F. Drucker
At the Center for Cooperative Divorce we engage in a type of mediation that involves interest-based negotiations. This negotiation strategy has been defined as achieving a “win-win” solution to disputes. The focus in developing consensus agreements takes into account each party’s “underlying interests.” These include the needs, desires, concerns, and fears that are important to each party.
If all that is known is that each party wants something, the focus is on what they want and too little attention is paid to why. When the person’s position is understood, there may be more opportunity for each person to get all of what they want. For instance, with support, the person needing support may want as much as they can get while the person paying support may want to pay as little as possible. If it were to be discovered the receiver has fears of not being able to manage the bare necessities and the payer has fears of being taken advantage of, reducing the needs to actual review might show a reasonable support payment will meet both their needs.
Once the parties can be made aware of the underlying needs, the process of gathering alternative solutions begins. All ideas are explored – even obviously impractical ideas that may be among them. More ideas create more opportunity for solution. Then each idea is examined in terms of whether it meets the needs of the parties, can it work, what problems it solves and what problems might it create. The solutions are then tested against independent and objective standards. Information gathering becomes center stage in this process. The proposals are evaluated in terms of the available information (documentation, consultation with experts, etc.) and, if necessary, further investment to provide additional independent information.
As the process moves forward an overall plan begins to form, integrating the various proposals into a global solution. Each of the parties must agree to the proposed solution and constructing a best case and worst case scenario can help to determine how reasonable the plan will be. This is where the skill of the mediator can truly help.