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.

What is a Mindful Divorce?

What is mindfulness?
Merriam-Webster defines: “[Mindfulness is] the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines: “Mindfulness [as] paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Thich Nhat Hanh defines: “Mindfulness [as] what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.” This paper discusses how mindfulness can be used to assist parties separating and divorcing in ways that show a degree of care and concern for the other, that are otherwise values not usually experienced through traditional divorce.

What does a mindful divorce look like?
As professionals who interact with people during difficult periods in their lives, we are often looking for new approaches that will resolve difficult legal issues while minimizing emotional impact on those involved.

Over the course of my 35 years of legal practice, I have developed a methodology that can reliably bring positive results in emotionally challenging situations. I call this “mindful law.” Here’s how it applies in case of a couple facing divorce.

A mindful divorce establishes a framework for communication and listening. It provides an opportunity for mutual understanding by focusing on each person’s concerns and interests. Mindful divorces resolve conflicts that are in the way of settlement in ways that respect each spouses’ right to self-determination. Mindful divorce addresses the following questions:

Can your clients work out a kitchen-table agreement?
If the clients have a modicum of civility and resourcefulness, they can work out some of the essential agreements on their own. This should be encouraged; it demonstrates self determination and a capacity to work through conflict on their own. Kitchen table negotiations become a mindful process when the parties can apply key listening skills that help transcend
disagreements. However, at this stage of mediation, a legal/conflict divorce coach is often still required to support and finalize technical aspects of an agreement.

What is a mindful mediation?
In a mindful mediation a third-party neutral carefully sets up a structure of communication that encourages the spouses to learn basic listening skill sets and to pay attention to the charges they are experiencing in the moment. A mindful mediation stops the action as appropriate to
inquire into the source of the charge and reflect in a quiet way on that matter. A mindful mediation encourages each party to reflect back what they understand being stated and provides give and take to further understanding of the other’s interests. This becomes a joint effort where recognition and empowerment of the speaker is honored. A mindful mediator embodies this practice and encourages this behavioral change for life.

A mindful mediation also benefits from the party’s resources within their family and community. This may be direct by working with therapists, financial planners, children’s teachers and coaches, and concerned family members. A mindful conversation for third party support presents a crucial distinction as the spouses can avoid feeling alone or ashamed about
their situation. The professional and communal team is coached to provide this support. The mediator is not the only neutral entity involved in resolving the marital separation because other professionals in the community collectively hold the field for a peaceful and practical

How is a Collaborative Divorce mindful?
The collaborative divorce includes individuals with multiple disciplinary skill sets so the divorcing couple is served by experts such as: legal, parental coaching by a licensed therapist, a child coach by a licensed therapist, a financial planner/analyst and a real estate expert. All professionals are trained in the collaborative law model and as mediators. The participation
collaborative agreement entered into at the start of the process, commits to an out of court settlement meeting the key needs of the divorcing spouses while eliminating many of the usual games that might go on between attorneys, such as protracted discovery and divisive/adversarial tactics.

Parties in the collaborative process are empowered to take responsibility for the settlement. The process goes as slowly or quickly as they need, while clearly understanding key provisions of the agreement. It is mindful because all interests and concerns get addressed – to the spouse’s mutual satisfaction.

Can a negotiated settlement, out of court, be a mindful process?
There are occasions when a spouse is up against a difficult situation, in which case a mindful divorce involves me working closely with one individual who is grounded and clear in wanting to escape this conflict while keeping the family core healthy. If there are no children, then just
wanting to keep him or herself safe and protected becomes a priority. A mindful divorce is key in preserving parenting for the best interests of the children, while having the strategic and tactical skills to negotiate or litigate the best possible outcome for the client.

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As an attorney who has been settling litigated matters for the past 35 years and who has been meditating for 40, I understand the import of being in the balcony, encouraging deep seated listening, and creating a space of respectfulness and dignity. This is not easy work and sometimes it gets messy. A mindfulness approach to divorce provides the client with an
opportunity to reduce the karmic impact of the divorce and move into a field of future cooperation.

I am available and welcoming new cases at this time. If you have any questions or would be interested in having a talk on the above subjects by me and one of my therapist/coaching colleagues, please let me know.

Best Regards,
Steve Shapiro

BIO: Steve Shapiro has an established family law practice and has extensive experience in settling disputes concerning civil litigation, business law, civil rights, employment, contract matters, wills and probate. He also served as a federal mediator for the Department of Justice settling September 11, 2001 claims and settling complex energy related matters. He is a member of both the Maryland and District of Columbia Bars. He has a Bachelors’ Degree in
Organizational Science and received his law degree from Antioch University School of Law in 1983. He served as Chairman of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section and was Chairman of the American Bar Association’s task force on confidentiality in federal dispute resolution. He is on the board of directors for the Conflict Resolution Center for Montgomery County, is a member of the DC Academy of Collaborative Professionals, the Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals, and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

The Importance of asking WHY!

Probably the most important in negotiation.  Yes, a two-year old might cry why do I need to go to bed now, a twelve-year old might ask- why do I need to clean my room and a teenager might ask – why do I need to call you if I am coming home after curfew. All age appropriate retorts in a parenting context.  In a negotiation, the question why is not one of defiance, but of understanding. At the core of a win-win structure, are all parties and participants in the negotiation understanding the core needs and interests of each other.  This does not mean that you necessarily have to agree with what the needs are the other party is stating, but it does take a sign of character, leadership and integrity to be able to listen deeply to the other.  It means that most people when listening in a conflict situation have their ears tuned into their own radio station with the call letters WIFM (What’s in it for me?). But what if we change the call letters to WETA. When there is empathy, trust and attention to what the other is saying, a conducive atmosphere is developed for a sustaining and durable settlement.

The why question is the directional focus for the negotiation.  If a settlement cannot be achieved, go back to the why questions and see what is not being expressed.  Remember in a deep-seated conflict, trauma, disappointment, anger, shame, fear, can be so deep rooted, not many human beings are prone to want to share themselves this roar to the bone.  In When there is empathy, trust and attention (WETA) there is a greater chance for honest and authentic sharing to take place.

The true response to why often produces the tell-tale signs for a settlement structure to come into place.  Participants who understand the value and import of why often leave this type of negotiation feeling better about themselves, the other, and see a brighter future.