Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Negotiating your way through marriage, Part 2: The Power of Preparation

Okay, so, this seems a little obvious, right? Being prepared is basically always a good idea (a small boy in a khaki uniform told me that once, I think). is totally easier said than done. And this is probably, again, one of those things that would be even harder to manage in a marriage. Why in the world would I need to prepare to talk to my Hubs about who should do the dishes or why we should get fourteen puppies? It does seem sorta dumb, and it is true that preparation is probably more important in a professional negotiation situation like negotiating a job offer or a pay raise, but...let's just go with it.

Here is what the negotiation books have to say (and yes, at some point I will tell you the names of the books as well, I'm no plagiarist).

1) Self-assessment. What do you want? I talked about this a fair amount yesterday so I'll leave it at this, but it is still important to say. If you don't know what you want how will you know if you got it?

2) Know your BATNA Oh yea, I threw down an obscure acronym. BATNA stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, and I like cause it sounds like Batman and it is really, really important.

Basically: what will happen if you can't come to an agreement? What will you do, or what will the other person do? What is your alternative? How strong is your alternative compared to the person you are negotiating against? That last one is related to power relationships in the negotiation: if one person has a really attractive alternative than they are less likely to need to come to an agreement and one way you can increase the amount of power or leeway you have in a negotiation is to strengthen your own BATNA, or try and weaken the other party's BATNA. Some of that might not be so awesome for a marital situation; I don't think I want to advocate trying to strengthen your position against your spouse. But you can still benefit from knowing your realistic alternative.

Example: For D and I right now, the "alternative" is living apart after we graduate. (I'm not going to go there and say the alternative is the big D word. Because that just isn't an alternative to this situation). In the realm of human possibility we could live apart for a while and pursue our own professional interests. However, neither one of us wants to do that at all: so we both have the same BATNA, and it sucks. This means that we are both really invested in coming to an agreement that we can both live with.

2) Determine your Target Point and your Reservation Point

Your Target Point is basically your ideal. My target point is each of us having awesome jobs that pay us reasonable salaries (wait, it's my target point: GINORMOUS salaries!) in my home town.

Your Reservation Point is the point-which-you-shall-not-pass. In negotiation there may be some things you are willing to concede but there will be other things that you absolutely are not willing to accept or give up. Rather than go past your reservation point you will "Activate your BATNA," walk away from the table, cease negotiating, etc etc. Get the hell outta there.

You're supposed to figure out your reservation point beforehand and, if possible, write it down, or have it in your head clearly. If this is a financial issue that is easy enough: although I'd like to buy a house at X price, I can go up to Y price but then that is IT. This isn't so realistic in a marriage, when you will be negotiating all the time, and it is harder with matters of the heart - how do you quantify the need to feel professionally fulfilled or to live close to your family? But it might still be helpful to think about, and people work this out various ways. Maybe "I could live 60 miles from a city but not 120," or "I'm willing to clean the bathroom all the goddamn time but I am sure as hell not killing any cockroaches if any appear in our house."

Right now we are still working out our reservation points (which are pretty intricately tied to our interests, of course). In some ways our reservation points are the same as our BATNA - we are not willing to live apart, so we have to come up with something.

But within our situation there are other things for which we we can determine a reservation point. Example: D$ could potentially get a high-paying job in a far away city, and we have to decide what we want to do about that. So, what is our reservation point; how far is too far?
If we can figure that out, we have a plan. That way, if one of us gets an amazing job opportunity that offers us trillions of dollars but is in the Bermuda Triangle, we don't run the risk of getting caught up in dollar signs and signing on for a job that will make both of us miserable. We can say: "Well, wait, look: our reservation point was "No ocean-crossing" or "Only two time zones" or whatever." Having a reservation point doesn't mean you can't change it as situations change, but it does help you from getting caught up in the moment and making a decision that you will later regret.

I think I have gone on long enough for tonight. More to come soon! Although maybe not tomorrow because tomorrow is my 13 hour day.

Also - I would like to state for the record that neither one of us will be offered trillions of dollars. What is most likely to happen is someone will offer me $30,000 to work 60 hours a week in an immigrant rights organization or public assistance office...and I will jump up and down with joy and be totally thrilled. After negotiating the hell out of that salary and benefits package, to be sure.

1 comment:

  1. I really like your take on this. It's making me think about the way I approach - erm - important conversations. And I also hold out for the trillian dollar dream while settling for the helping-people-world-a-better-place reality. At least sometimes there's dental.