The 4th Step on Your Road to Divorce

In my last blog post, we talked about the first three steps to divorce: commit to a process; gather information that you need from the outside; and gather important information from the inside. In this blog post, I will discuss the fourth step. All seven steps will be further discussed in a book I’m writing.

Step Four: Framing Interests 

I just came from a meeting where there was a lot of arguing going on. In the middle of all that quarrelling, one party suddenly stopped, turned to the other and asked, “What’s important to you? I want to understand what’s important to you about your position.” We all just stopped, took a step back and said, “Alright, let’s actually really understand what is important about it.”  Staying focused on what is important isn’t always easy, but it is central to interest-based negotiation. 

Framing interest involves making a list of what’s important to both people. Literally write it down. Whether or not people are working together, try it. 

Writing down what’s important to both people is a really useful thing to do in any kind of negotiation-type discussion. I like to do this on a flip chart so that everyone can see it. 

I work and teach in the “Understanding-Based Model” of mediation. In it, we use a four-pronged test to see if a word or phrase represents what is important to each person is being expressed as an interest. Each item must meet these four requirements for it to make it onto the flip-chart list:

1. It has to be really emotionally significant to the person. It’s not petty. It’s really significant.

2. It has to be reasonably tangible. It can’t be like “I just want to be happy.” If gardens make you happy, then say I want to be able to have a garden.

3. It has to point toward multiple options. It can’t be “I want to stay in the house,” because that’s a position. A position is something that only points to one option. It’s really what’s important to both people; not just what one wants in terms of a result.

4. It has to be phrased as a benefit. It has to be a benefit, not something someone doesn’t get. “I want you to pay for what you’ve done,” would never make the list because it’s framed as something the other didn’t get. The idea is to reframe the expression of that interest into a perspective of what they actually do want. For example, “I don’t want to have a lot of debt,” might mean “I want to have financial security.” 

When I make a list for both people, and both get to see this list of what’s important to them, it creates a real framework for both to see what is important to both. It is amazing how often this helps the people shift their perspective and see that they are not out to get each other. When what’s really important to both of them is on paper, this creates an opportunity for both people to speak with clear parameters around them. It’s not just the same old argument they’ve always had.

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