By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
~Henry David Thoreau

Isn’t divorce a bit like Halloween? Each party puts on a mask – to frighten or hide. Sometimes the mask changes from intimidating to intimidated. One might ask for treats to fill the bag with riches or let loose with tricks to punish, stymie or confound the other. If one gathers most of the sweets, they suffer from overreaching while the other festers with envy. What, pray tell, will chase away the demons and hob-goblins?

Settling issues in divorce is a negotiation – either carried out by advocates or by direct dealings. Sometimes the direct dealings are helped by experienced negotiating advisors called mediators. But whichever course is taken, knowing about the art of negotiation will lead to better results.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, author and Professor of Marketing at Arizona State University, has written about the science of influence. His research led him to develop an effective method in persuading others to reach agreement. He bases his approach on six principles he calls “weapons of influence.” Among the “weapons” is reciprocity. When one is generous in making an offer, it is usually reciprocated in multiple ways. A second principle is “commitment and consistency.” Once a commitment is made, orally or in writing, it is generally followed – even when the original motivation is removed.

Myer Sankary, an attorney and expert negotiating coach, applied Dr. Cialdini’s theories to negotiation in mediation (see Valley Lawyer, June 2009). He makes the following points:

1. Come prepared with accurate information about the other person’s needs;

2. Have reasons to support each proposal – people comply more often when there is a rationale for the proposal;

3. Provide multiple options – people are more likely to choose one of your options when they are provided the ability to “choose.”

A successful negotiation meets as many of the mutual needs of the parties as resources allow. This is why many mediators first try to identify the needs of each of the parties to build a framework for agreement. Finally, the parties are encouraged to use the proven techniques for reaching agreement. No tricks! No treats! Just sharing the Pumpkin pie!

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