Tips for Negotiating on Zoom

These tips focus on supporting you in being your best while negotiating important matters over Zoom.  The most important thing to understand like anything in life is preparation.  Prepare for maintaining presence and attention, prepare for knowing and understanding what the other is saying, and prepare for the best  outcome.

Zoom has many advantages over in-person. One is you do not need to travel. Plan on using at least half the travel time for preparation.  I recommend you spend five minutes doing any exercise that helps you ground your breathing, posture and awareness so you are not reactivated by any of the personalities or exchanges. Use at least 5 minutes in ‘The Balcony’. And use the final five minutes in a state that gives you a feel for the outcome you would like to see from the session.

Exercises for grounding can include anything that will get your heartbeat going and cause a change in physiological state. A five-minute exercise activates the endorphins sending good feelings about yourself and others to your brain. When you are engaged in this five-minute exercise pick something you are grateful for to focus  on relative to the negotiation. Since the heart of negotiation is understanding yours and the other’s  interests,  try zeroing in on what your most important interests are and offer  gratitude  for these feelings. Interests may be unrealized wishes, needs and dreams.  There is power in offering gratitude for something even if it has not manifested yet.  This helps your physiological state fully embody and hold these interests.

This is best illustrated by the childhood story of two fighting siblings where one child wants to make juice from an orange and the other sibling is baking a cake and wants to use an orange to make icing. The siblings are fighting non-stop and finally their mom in a state of frustration cuts the orange in half and says here you each get half, now go away and leave me alone. Suddenly she reflected and she asked each child again what they wanted the orange for, and she said what if you used all the peel for grating, and you used all the pulp to make juice using the whole orange. A classic win-win.  Negotiations do not always work out so simply however when all parties understand the core interests are for themselves and the other, they can genuinely reflect on how to make it work given all the circumstances. You now have the foundation for a healthy and successful negotiation.

This leads to preparing for knowing and understanding. The ‘Going to the Balcony’ concept originates in theories of leadership development and conflict resolution. It represents the idea of becoming the observer of the situation where you and the others involved in the negotiation are on the stage and you go to the balcony getting a clear perspective on the situation. When we can step outside ourselves for a brief moment and separate from the drama, emotions, and sometimes trauma, we gain perspective and wisdom about the situation.

The balcony is also a place to sit next to your counterpart, whoever it may be.  You can imagine your counterpart sitting next to you on the balcony and begin recognizing each other’s interests. It is difficult in physical reality to explain how this phenomenon works except to say that 1) it increases your capacity for accepting the other; 2) increases your willingness to understand and commit to the other’s interests – along with your own; and 3) physiologically puts you in tune with the other so there is a deeper meaning to communication.

Take a moment and write down on a pad two columns. One side write down everything you are interested in regarding the conflict and in the other column write what you think the other’s interests might be. Imagine you are in the balcony with the other and on the stage, you see a bridge where you are crossing over to the other side where your counterpart is standing. You stand next to them while you are simultaneously sitting next to them in the balcony. It’s not a si fi movie but does require imagination and emotion. Allow the other to share their inner most interests to you. Breath with them – therapists call this co-regulation. It reduces anxiety and builds trust when you are in tune with them. Consider repeating back what you hear so they understand you are really listening. This is key so they actually feel you might be aware of and feel what they are feeling.

My grandmother used to say you catch more with honey than from vinegar. Your honey and sweetness is not necessarily agreeing with the other. This is a key point to this entire blog. You can show understanding while at the same time disagree with an idea.

The process repeats itself where your counterpart crosses the bridge to stand next to you, listen to you, and repeat your interests back to you.  This is sometimes even more difficult because you have to be able to accept that this other person is really listening to you and getting you at your core.  It is fundamental to resolving conflict in a successful and durable way that you feel heard, understood and appreciated.  It is helpful knowing this information as you go into the negotiation.

You master steps one and two, you are now ready for step three, prepare for the best outcome. Truth is after steps one and two you are now ready for step three. Good luck.

Why You Need a Team of Experts to Support You Through Your Separation and Divorce

This article discusses the import  of having a team of experts and professionals supporting you through your separation and divorce.  Ideally we want you to know that you are not alone going through this.  Depending on your circumstances, you and I work together to develop the best team approach that balances the complexities of your situation with your resources.  If your family owns a multimillion dollar business, our business mediation team can assist in obtaining a neutral evaluation, working out payout strategies, and consider the tax implications; if you have special needs children we have psychologists who can work to develop a  sound strategy to integrate the child’s interests into the separation process.  My personal commitment to you is that we will take a comprehensive and successful approach to meeting your needs.

Please call my office at 301.760.7999 to discuss further.

Are You Legally Ready For Divorce?

From Trauma, to Transformation and then Peace.

Over the past thirty plus years my career has focused on all aspects of dispute resolution – it began with a specialty in family law and it continues that way today. Over the past years I felt a need to step into leadership. I learned that at this time in history, this work has become a deep calling and one that I feel privileged to take on. Let me clarify, throughout my career I have balanced a commercial and family law practice; now my work is 100% focused on leaving the family in better position than before they engaged my services.

An important aspect in the law, conflict resolution and peace-making is understanding the role trauma plays in resolving deep seated conflict.  As an attorney and probably for most lawyers we did not get trained in understanding the role trauma plays in personal, family and civic disputes. Over the past years I have had the privilege teaching attorneys and staff at the 911 Victim Compensation Fund about the principles of mindfulness. The Fund provides financial compensation to the Victims of 9/11 and in doing so are hearing first-hand what citizens and responders experienced at the time of this national disaster. The experience has deepened my empathy and understanding for the impact trauma plays on our physical health and well-being. Now when you combine this with the impacts from Covid, trauma gets exacerbated.

Much if not all conflict originates with personal trauma:  when you pause and examine a conflict’s pathology we recognize it began with an incident that is shaping the present-day concerns. When we deepen our understanding and experience, trauma becomes our best teacher in developing successful outcomes in our lives. Every individual is special, whether you are divorcing, in the middle of losing a loved one, or seeing your identity stripped away in a family business, everyone has parts frozen from prior trauma that holds aspects of our greatness.  Through practices of mindfulness, therapy  and working with a skilled mediator in this area we can begin to melt away this grip and loosen its reigns. When we experience this  shift we find that the fears, anxieties, critical non-stop judgments, and anger that has been gripping us somehow is better understood and dissipates.

My own story is that I was born when my 7 – year old sister died from a concussion.  They describe me as a replacement baby – which there really is no such thing. As a baby and as a child I had no cognitive way to empathize with my mom, dad and living sister regarding their grieving and loss– nor can I understand how negative behaviors could show up after an immense loss of a child.  What’s the trauma you might ask, I did not suffer the loss myself, I was not mature enough to appreciate the loss . .  maybe it was vicarious trauma.  Now I am seeing how being present and open to this event in my life helps inform my work with clients who are in the middle of a deep and troubling situation. When I am able to direct my own awareness to a trauma be it my own or client, just the identification and awareness of which creates space for the parties in dispute to step back from the immediate conflict.  This separation between some earlier trauma and the conflict at hand has power – I often use the metaphor “going to the balcony”.  It is also helpful to realize that there are many forms of trauma that can be impacting the current conflict. I realized how impactful and lasting grief and shame  can be on the human psyche.  It is amazing how we can become successful in life, go to the best of universities, make an excellent living and still have this one  hanging out in our minds with this unknown shadow. Conflict situations such as family, ancestral, communal, organizational or historical traumas shape our lives and instruct us around opportunities for healing and growth in relationship.

Through conversation, mindfulness, and understanding, parties begin to see the interrelationship with the current conflict.  When we shift from an adversarial posture in the family system to a collaborative model, we find real healing is possible.  When I realized that my family did their best with what they knew at the time, it allowed a broader sense of compassion for the contribution they made to me.  I am learning how this experience at birth and in my early years informs each and every conflict I am involved with.  I believe in the collaborative spirit that all people in conflict are being supported, healed, and move towards peace.  This is what starting over is about.  When we drag our past beliefs into our next relationship, without resolving prior conflict we repeat old patterns of behavior that do not support us. Now is the time to fully start anew.

Taming the Provocateur

In every conflict, we are all listening to voices in our head. No, I am not suggesting we are all crazy, only that our inner dialogue can determine the outcome in every matter. How can you and I be sure of this? Well, this is as sure as putting a person on the moon. This effort takes vision and action.  This inner conversation determines whether the disputing parties, spouses, family members, are able to maintain a workable and constructive dialogue that leads to a settlement.  The inner conversation also determines how you move through the post-dispute.  If you are bitter and angry throughout the dispute, you are likely to be afterwards. Now is the opportunity for the change, not necessarily easy, but one that is in essence inevitable if you are reading this blog.

What is the self-talk needed to guide us through a conflict? A skilled mediator and attorney ought to be steeped in this area of practice, though all too often, people in conflict adopt an adversarial or combative posture. Unfortunately, when we confront conflict with more conflict/confrontation, we exacerbate the original trauma that might have been the source of the problem. There is a choice we have at the outset: do we seek understanding, or do we seek confrontation?

Self-talk starts with a vision for your success in the negotiation. When you can see the conflict as a catalyst for positive change in your life, the context of the dispute takes on a whole new shape. When you examine what you need to be happy right now, understanding that no one or no external force is going to make you happy, then you begin to develop a sense of personal responsibility for where you are in your life. Examples of this is when one spouse who was not as involved in the family finances, realizes that it is time to learn the math, learn the budget, and learn what income is needed to make my life operate, there is personal growth; or when one spouse who may have been working too many hours not spending time at home with their children, there is an opportunity for personal growth.

The next step involves building a bridge designed for this particular conflict between you and the individual(s) you are in conflict with. This bridge is built over a conflict that might be so severe or traumatic that you cannot imagine why you would even consider building such a bridge. The pillars for this bridge are that your life got intertwined with this other entity for a reason. You may not like it, but what if this conflict might be the treatment you were looking for in your life? The bridge that you are building is an effort at understanding the other’s interests and concerns surrounding the conflict. It is also essential for your children and family as you model resilience and wisdom as you move through this difficult period!

Sometimes a skilled mediator who has dedicated their career to sharpening/fine-tuning their listening skills can assist in this endeavor. But unless you are pointed towards the bridge and enter into a conversation about understanding the other’s interests, it will be challenging to collaboratively resolve this conflict.

Okay, you hear all this but do not see how you can consider crossing this metaphoric bridge. Remember, it is okay to keep working on yourself and figuring out what your true interests are so you can work through this episode in your life. I encourage you to find an earlier and related trauma that might inform you about why you are holding this conflict the way you are. There may be nothing wrong here, but if a series of past traumas are keeping you stuck, then finding a way to be with the trauma(s), identify it, hold it, feel it in your body, and just let it be might free you up to gain an aware state of presence and wisdom. Generally, when we are holding onto prior trauma, we are blaming the other about what might have caused the trauma. When we can let that earlier situation just be, without attributing any of your pain to the other, you can own it more for yourself and resolve the internal conflict. When the internal conflict is resolved, you suddenly have more space to move onto the bridge, begin really listening to the other’s interests and work towards resolution.