This article was published in the Chicago Now section of the Chicago Tribune (circa 2011) as part of the Kulerski & Cornelison “The Way We War” series of articles.

Conventional wisdom has always warned against being the one to make the first offer during divorce negotiations, strongly advising us to wait for the other side to go first.  The point of view insists that the party making the first offer rings a bell that can never be un-rung, that it shortens the playing field, and that it sets a limit on the best deal the offer-making party can ever expect to receive.

However, there are now two professionally accepted schools of thought regarding the advisability of make the first offer.

On the other side of the conventional wisdom coin, many top negotiators now believe the that the party making the first offer actually gains a superior bargaining position.  They feel the first offer indicates strength and confidence and anchors the settlement talks in the offer-making party’s chosen bargaining zone.

Both schools of thought recommend that the parties try to delay getting to the first-offer stage.  If the big demands begin too early, the walls of defense start going up prematurely and are likely to snuff out the interchange that is usually needed to serve as foundation for the big demands.

If you do make the first offer, do it politely and explain why you believe it meets the applicable standard.  Always indicate flexibility in your price, and do not start at your bottom line because this leaves no room for compromise.

What do you do if your spouse makes the first offer?

Start by giving off a subtle and respectful flinch.  He or she is watching for your reaction.  A flinch indicates mild surprise; it is a polite way of indicating your disapproval.  People believe what they see more than what they hear.  You can usually expect their attitude to be more accommodating after a credible flinch.

Never say yes to a first offer, even if you think it’s a good deal.  Do so will leave your partner with thoughts that they offered too much.  You want them to feel they made a good deal and not be kicking themselves later.

Do not say no too quickly.  Show that you are considering their position by allowing sufficient time to pass before you respond.  If you want your spouse to give serious thought to what you want, you have to give at least the impression of giving serious thought to what your spouse wants.

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Kari and Richard are staunch advocates of the non-court approach to divorce, and are also active and seasoned litigators with over 80 years of combined trial experience in the Illinois divorce courts of Cook and DuPage counties.