Discussing interests, rather than clinging to positions, leads to success.

I met family law attorney Janice Green at her rambling house in a leafy hollow in Austin, Texas. We were talking in her book-filled study, when a storm suddenly broke loose. Rain pelted the windows. The lights went out. But we sat there talking.

I was totally fascinated by her explanation of “interest-based negotiation,” a key component of collaborative divorce. Interest-based negotiation is a way of identifying your “big picture” desires and coming up with alternative routes to meet them. This is a style of negotiation I’ve become increasingly adept at in the years after my own divorce, I realized while talking to Green, and one that has continued to improve my relationship with my ex, and probably my life in general.

Green has been practicing family law for 35 years, and is the author of Divorce after 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges (NOLO 3rd Ed. 2016). She is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and has been named to Best Lawyers in America, and as a Texas Monthly Super Lawyer. For the past 10 years, she’s focused exclusively on collaborative divorce.

Wendy Paris: I am so interested in the idea of “interest-based” negotiation, both for divorce but also for your life. Can you give some more details?

Janice Green: Interest-based negotiation is having people negotiate from their interests rather than from positions. A divorcing spouse might take the position, “I want to stay in the house with the kids. Period.” Take it or leave it.

If that spouse were to reframe that position into an interest, it might sound like this: “I want to remain in the neighborhood so our children don’t have to go through a change in schools.” That interest could be met in a number of ways.

Think of interests as the engine, the motivation, the impetus driving a position. They are expressed as goals, fears, reasons, concerns. Positions are black and white. Interests are multi-colored.

Here’s another example. A client takes this position: “I want to come out of this divorce with our 2014 Navigator SUV.” If restated as an interest, it could be broader: “I will be hauling around children and their sports gear, and we like to do a lot of off-road drives.” While only one vehicle meets the position, several vehicles could meet the interest.

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