3.14 Negotiating


Here are some people that can help with negotiations: MediateBC, Family Justice CounsellorsLawyer Referral, Collaborative Divorce Vancouver

Knowing how to communicate with your former spouse will make it a lot easier to reach an agreement with them. Now that you’ve learned some strategies to communicating, the next step is to learn how to negotiate. Though you and your former spouse are separated as a couple you may still need to make decisions together for your children or on other matters. This means you will need to negotiate to work out a number of issues.


Negotiation is a discussion held by at least two people with the goal of reaching an agreement. Negotiation is an everyday activity that we all engage in whether it’s negotiating a work contract or debating with friends where to go for dinner.

Negotiating allows you to have a lot of control over the process.  Since you and your former spouse know your family situation the best, it makes sense that you have control over making decisions about the family moving forward.  While you were together you probably negotiated a number of things when you made decisions together. In an intimate relationship we often do not notice that we are negotiating, but that is what is happening. E.g. you might negotiate who’s doing the dishes tonight.  However, now that you are separated you should approach negotiations with your former spouse in a more deliberate manner.

We will discuss the different methods of negotiating and highlight the most effective ways to negotiate with a former spouse. With the use of step by step guides, tips, and worksheets you will learn how to prepare for, begin and behave during negotiations. 

Negotiation Styles

There are different ways to approach negotiations. You may find you naturally prefer one style while others tend to use a different style.

Generally there are 5 negotiation styles; competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising and collaborating.

In the illustration, you can see these styles placed according to  their levels of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Let’s take a quick look at each style.

Competing (High Assertiveness & Low Cooperativeness)

This style is the most self-focused and is often associated with forcefulness, domineering and inflexible. This style is often seen as uncooperative and can be very damaging to a relationship. The outcome is usually win-lose.

Avoiding (Low Assertiveness & Low Cooperativeness)

This is very low on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This style turns away from conflict.  Though it may be beneficial to side step high conflict topics the downside is important issues never get addressed which leads to greater conflict and uncertainty. This style is best in the short term, to give you time to cool down or prepare for negotiations, but in the long term it does not yield in results. The outcome is usually lose-lose.

Accommodating (Low Assertiveness & High Cooperativeness)

This is the least self-focused style and is often associated with “giving in.” Someone who’s accommodating might be submissive on issues or just disinterested. They can be seen as allowing the other party to push them around. On some issues it might not be worth the fight and accommodating the other may help diffuse the tension. But accommodating on all issues will lead to your opinions and priorities not being heard or met. The outcome is usually lose (for you) and win (for the other party).

Compromising (Medium Assertiveness & Medium Cooperativeness)

This style is in the middle with medium levels of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Usually both parties give up something they want in order to get something else they want.  This is done by meeting in the middle, the point equally between each person’s position. If two people want a pie you’d split it in half, each person gets one half, neither got what they wanted a whole pie but they each got something. Compromising involves both people settling for less than they want. The outcomes can be seen as fair though not entirely satisfying.

Collaborating (High Assertiveness & High Cooperativeness)

This style is focused on satisfying both sides and creating the best outcome for both. It is often thought of as 'expanding the pie' by thinking outside the box and finding innovative solutions.  This style can take more time and energy but allows you to be creative. Collaborating focuses on understanding the issues and interests of both parties. The outcome is usually win-win.