Monday, December 7, 2009

Negotiating your way through marriage, Part 3: Expanding the Pie

More pie? Hells yea. Although, I'd have to say I'm technically on Team Cake.

Basically, "Expanding the Pie" is negotiator jargon for coming up with creative options so that you create a win-win situation and don't leave any resources "on the table." They argue that most people get concerned with "dividing the pie" and don't see creative ways to create value for both parties. Again, this is more easily applied to a stereotypical business negotiation situation: One party wants higher wages, the other party wants to cut costs. This seems like a pie-splitting situation: more money for one equals higher costs for the other. But what if there are ways that the first party can cut costs that would also allow them to increase their wages?

An example that is dear to my heart is: I really, really hate washing the dishes. A lot. D$ loves to cook and I love it when he cooks, but hate it when he makes a lot of dishes (because I would have eaten beans from a can and only made one dish). We could fight all damn day about who has to to the dishes, basically seeing it as a fixed-sum game. Either I have to buck up and do more dishes (and D$ has to listen to me bitch about it) or D$ has to do dishes when he makes extremely complicated meals. Either way one (or both) of us is going to lose. But wait! Do we have enough money in our budget for a dishwasher? Would that help us get our needs met and create mutual gain? The answer is: yes, it would. Using some of our money to get a dishwasher would solve the problem in question and we would both "win."
(As it turns out we rent and can't afford a dishwasher, but we have agreed that next time we move there will be a dishwasher).

That is an easy issue, but negotiation solutions aren't always that clear. Here are some of the tactics I have learned in class for expanding the pie and inventing mutual gain (applied, cause I'm self-involved, to D and my lives).

1) Unbundle the Issues. Expand the set of negotiable issues.

For us, some of the issues are:

  1. How much money do we want/need to make?
  2. Do we both want/need to work?
  3. What kind of jobs do we want to do?
  4. When do we want to have kids?
  5. Where do we want to have kids?
And on and on and on.

It is hard not to think about some of this as one big issue of "Where will our jobs take us?" but failing to unpack the issues will make it harder to make a decision. For example: I want to live in my home town so I can see my family more, but that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with our jobs. What if we get jobs that are far away but pay us enough to to allow for frequent travel? If we don't unpack all the issues we might miss that kind of option.

An example from one my texts is separating the price of something from the terms of sale or lease. Let's say one person is really concerned about getting price A for a good, but the buyer doesn't want to pay that price. It turns out that for the buyer it isn't really the price that is the issue, it's that they want to pay over a series of months rather than years. If the two people can decide on a payment plan that will allow the seller to receive price A on the buyer's timetable, then they will both be happy and the sale will go through. But if they just negotiate price they might walk away from the deal, or one person might accept a price that they are unhappy with.

2) Separate Inventing from Deciding. First of all, you have to broaden your options by brainstorming. But create a space where you can come up with creative options without worrying whether or not they are something each party could live with.

For D$ and I this will be very important, since we have so many issues on the table.
Some potential scenarios:
  1. I mentioned before, one possibility is for us to live separately.
  2. If he gets an awesome job we could move up the baby-making schedule and I could take a few years to stay home with the kiddies while he works that job. We could then switch, or move to where I could begin work that I'm interested in.
I don't know that I like either one of those options, but we aren't in the decide phase. We are in the brainstorm phase, and having all the options out on the table will help us to sort through the possibilities (and will probably help us clarify what our true interests are).

3) Come up with several equally satisfactory "packages."

For example:

I'd be happy living far from my hometown if we both had awesome jobs, got to have a house with a yard, and could make X amount of money a year.

I'd be happy making only Y amount a year if it meant that we were living in my hometown, working in fields that interested us, and could start planning for baby-making time.

I'd be willing to live apart if we made enough money to see each other once a month and both had extremely amazing jobs putting us on career trajectories that would allow us to move to my hometown (or near it) within 3 years.

And so and and so on. The thing about the multiple packages, is you have to know your own interests, and you have to be able to prioritize what is important to you. But you would also benefit from knowing what the other party's interests are so you can create your "packages" in a way that is attractive to them, so Parts 1 and 2 are important here.

I think I've gone on too long (if you've made it to the end of the post congrats)! So I'll stop for today.

I can't tell if I'm beating a dead horse with this negotiation stuff...should I stop now or continue? I think I've hit the stuff that is most essential, but I could do one more post if y'all aren't totally sick of this crap by now.


  1. Not sick at all! I'm terrible at negotiating, so this is highly interesting... I for one am happy for you to round off the tutorial.

  2. And very grateful for your time in doing so!

  3. Also not sick of it. I

    'm in the throes of final paper writing before we head out on our delayed honeymoon and your posts have been a mini-mind vacation for me. They remind me that a real world of important life issues exists outside of the grad school finals week bubble :)

  4. ..only just started reading this "series"- it's great stuff, thanks!

  5. Awesome, I'll do at least one more then (and tell you the books I am getting this stuff from).

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  7. I just read through these three posts and I loved them. Really great ideas, and you did a great job of putting them together and explaining them.

    On a personal level, much of what you write about rings true for me. My fiance and I have family in the US, Canada, and Europe, he has a great job where we live now, I'm on the road to medical school and may need to "go where I get in".

    That opens a lot of doors, and also means that there will be a lot of negotiating in our future.

    Toss in some wedding planning, and well, thanks for these posts!

  8. @Olivia - thanks! It is amazing how many people this rings true for (or at least how many people who also read A Practical Wedding and then found their way here). Good luck to you on the medical school front, hopefully you will get in somewhere that is ideal for both of you.

  9. Thanks!

    And I'd like to report that I used the "unbundle" the issues technique today. Wedding planning is making me NUTS and I sat down with my pen and paper and did some unbundling today. It's helping, I think.

  10. @Olivia: Holla! That's awesome.