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Lessons on Negotiating and Civility from the Late President Bush

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This week, the nation mourned the death of President George Herbert Walker Bush, and his loss was especially felt by all of us living in Texas, his adopted home state. It's always a time for somber reflection when a leader of his stature passes, especially when considering both his military service and his decades of public service. 

What was most striking about the eulogies for President Bush, however, was the acknowledgment of his humility, his civility, and his ability to bring factions at odds with each other together, to set aside their differences and accomplish important things.

When we remember the legacy of President Bush, we're likely to think of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of legislation that required Republicans and Democrats to come together, in the interest of people who overcome very real challenges in their everyday lives. It's not every President who gets the opportunity to make such a difference with landmark legislation; President Bush had the temperament and the congeniality needed to help deliver the bipartisan support required for the bill's passage.

In a Houston Public Media remembrance earlier this week, Lex Frieden, a faculty member at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and an activist for people with disabilities, noted that Bush's negotiating skills were essential in bringing about this life-changing legislation.

"He was very dependable, reliable partner all the way through the process of negotiating the bill, and getting it to the point that he could sign it as a law," Frieden noted, adding that he "was committed to completing the regulations needed to enforce the law and ensuring there were good enforcement mechanisms in place."

The ADA is just one reminder of the good that can come from principled, focused negotiation. In family law cases that require negotiation - including mediation, collaborative law, and in litigated cases where both parties are trying to avoid the courtroom - it's important to remember the end goal of reconciliation as opposed to the disagreements that led to the divorce.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when negotiating is that you may not be able to get everything you want out of a settlement, but you should know what's most important to you as you head into negotiations. That way, you can provide the mediator or lawyers the sense of what you ultimately, absolutely want in order to settle. If there's a way to deliver the most important elements of what each party wants in a negotiation, it's more likely that each party will consider the settlement a win.

It's also important to keep the principle of civility in mind. There will certainly be hurt feelings and unreconciled issues in any divorce, and it might take months or even years to work through those. Negotiating a settlement can be an important step in attending to those emotional needs, but it's a legal process, not an emotional one, and it requires focus on how the parties will best manage their post-divorce lives.

To think about President Bush's example, imagine if Republicans and Democrats held onto grudges from past elections and didn't attempt to work together to final ground. You might have not had the ADA helping numerous Americans - you might have, instead, had the rancor that we're experiencing now, and the stalemates that might be on the horizon now that there's likely to be a House of Representatives at odds with the current President.

Though it was sad to say goodbye to President Bush this week, it was an important reminder for us that it's possible to get along and come to solutions even in an extremely partisan time. For those of us at the Law Office of Lisa Vance, who see both the incredible conflict and the breakthrough resolutions that come in divorce, we recognize the example that President Bush set in his civility, and salute him for it.

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