“How Do I Know if I’m Making the Right Decision?”
This is one of the most common dilemmas that people face in negotiating divorce, custody, alimony, equitable distribution and child support issues. In fact, the fear of making the wrong decision can paralyze people and prevent them from making any decisions.
In my last blog post, I talked about the negative impact of indecision. The fear of making the wrong decision is one powerful fear that feeds indecision.
However, in a divorce context or any other, making decisions in the face of uncertainty it is critical.
The fact of the matter is that there are poor, better and best decisions. But, there are rarely right and wrong decisions. There are great decisions that turn out poorly and terrible decisions that work out well. No one has a crystal ball, and even the best analysis and prediction can be laid waste by future events. Life, as they say, is uncertain.
Nonetheless, decisions must be made. The best way that I know to handle the discomfort of making difficult decisions in the face of uncertain outcomes is from the book Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.
These authors give the following advice:
“Don’t spend your time looking for the one right answer about what to do. It’s not only a useless standard, it’s crippling. Instead, hold as your goal to think clearly as you take on the task of making a considered choice. That is as good as any of us can do.”
That is tremendous advice in both divorce and life.
Most people who get divorced do so without the benefit of a tax expert.
They get tax information and/or advice from their divorce attorney. However, as this Forbes article points out, divorce lawyers are not the best tax advisors.
In fact, most divorce lawyers go out of their way to disclaim any liability for tax advice in separation agreements and fee agreements.
So, if you are getting a divorce, and you can’t rely on a divorce attorney for expert tax advice, what do you do?
Collaborative attorneys figured this out a long time ago. In a collaborative divorce case, expert tax advice comes from the financial neutral.
The financial neutral provides unbiased neutral information and advice about tax issues that relate to divorce. That way, both parties get the same information at the same time. And, they are not getting in unnecessary conflicts due to differing tax advice from either their attorneys or their own individual tax advisors.
And here’s the best part about financial neutrals in collaborative divorces: A good piece of tax advice can save tens of thousands, if not more, for the couple. One small piece of information can have a huge impact on the financial futures of both clients.
On the other hand, the absence of that information can have a huge negative impact on both clients.
Tax issues are another big reason to take advantage of the collaborative process and the financial neutrals that help clients in the process.
Perhaps the most crucial foundational skill of productive negotiation and communication is the ability to empathize with the other person. Empathic communication (also known as “Non-violent communication”) is the cornerstone of the collaborative divorce process and interest based mediation.
But, in the world of adversarial, positional and leverage based legal negotiations, this is a foreign concept. Even today, in the vast majority of legal negotiations, the goal is not to understand the other party, but to “win”. Period. This seems to be especially true in divorce, custody, alimony, equitable distribution and other family law related cases.
The legal profession as a whole is simply behind the times in negotiation skills and processes.
The business world has understood the importance of understanding and empathy between parties to a negotiation for decades.
As early as 1989, Stephen R. Covey, in his bestselling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People named empathic interest based communication as one of the seven habits. Covey calls the habit “Seek First to Understand, Then To Be Understood.”
This book has been widely read and applied to the business world for over 20 years.
Here’s what Covey has to say about empathy:
“When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with the intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm.”
“Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.”
“Empathy is not sympathy. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.”
“Empathic listening is so powerful because it give you accurate data to work with.”
“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is…to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”
“When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.”
From a negotiation standpoint, the bottom line points are:
- That seeing the situation from the other party’s point of reference is crucial.
- That you do not have to agree with the viewpoint, just understand it.
- That empathic listening produces accurate data for the negotiation.
- You cannot influence the other person or problem solve until you have sought to understand the other party.
Whether you are involved in a business negotiation or a divorce negotiation, understanding the crucial role that empathic communication plays in the conversation will be the foundation to finding an intelligent, durable and mutually beneficial resolution.