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Planning Is Critical

by Phyllis Pollack
August 2010

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

Each week my friend and colleague Maria Simpson, Ph.D. writes a Two-Minute Training tip. Although her August 10, 2010 topic, “Nine Steps For Successful Negotiations,” allegedly takes three minutes to read; it is well worth the extra minute. In essence, she sets out how to participate in a successful mediation:

“1. Plan. Most of us plan by figuring out generally what we want, but that’s about it. Other things to consider are:

    • What the other side wants. You can’t make an acceptable offer if you don’t have an idea of what is desired and valued.
    • What you are willing to give up, what “concessions” you can make. List what you want in order of priority and then determine what is lowest on your list. This might be the item you can most easily give up, especially if it is something the other side wants. What has no value to you might be very valuable to someone else.
    • What your high and low boundaries are. What is the least you are willing to accept on a particular issue, and what is the most you are willing to give up on an issue? Even if these boundaries move a bit during the negotiation, having a sense of what they are will help you evaluate demands and offers from the other party.
    • What package you want at the end. How many times have you thought that you would never have agreed to A if you had known what B was going to be? And how many times have you thought you couldn’t renegotiate A now that B was known? Think of the outcome as a package, not as a list of discrete items.

2. Allow people to tell their stories. Not only does this indicate respect for the other party, but it can provide valuable insight into what is important to the other party and what the basis of the agreement might really be.

3. Surface the underlying issues. A negotiation is not only about what resources or tangibles will be divided up, but about what drives the need for these resources or tangibles and especially the quantities of these items. “What needs to be divided up,” the stuff being discussed, is the “what” of the negotiation. The underlying issues are the emotional part of the discussion, the why, and indicate what drives people to take the positions they present. Knowing why something is being asked for will help to determine how strong that desire is and how much room for negotiating there is. It might also indicate what else might be introduced into the discussion that might present a new alternative.

4. Bargain appropriately. Don’t make offers that will automatically be rejected as frivolous or insulting by the other party. The purpose of negotiating is to continue the process until resolution, not to end the discussion, and an insulting offer will end it quickly.

5. Know when to walk away, but don’t walk out too quickly, either. Sometimes just hanging in there for a little while longer will demonstrate a seriousness of purpose that will move the process along or raise an important but not previously considered position that has to be addressed. On the other hand, staying too long when there is clearly no hope of agreement is a waste of time. Consider carefully what will happen if you leave, and then decide.

6. Write the agreement. It is always best to have the parties write the agreement jointly, while they are still in the room, rather than to have one party draft it and the other party respond. The party that drafts the agreement has control over the language, and the discussion will become a series of challenges to, and defenses of, the language instead of a discussion of the issues. If possible, have a neutral third party draft the agreement based on conversations with both parties.

7. Consider the package as a whole. Do the elements balance? Did you get at least much of what you wanted? Is the other party reasonably satisfied or will the agreement fall apart in a few months? Until the agreement is signed, you have time to re-consider. Just be sure that new issues are serious enough that they must be raised even if you think the whole agreement might fall apart.

8. Stay flexible. Be prepared to change your understanding of the situation and of each party’s needs based on new information, and therefore, to change the elements of the agreement if necessary. New information can provide a new direction and a better agreement.

9. Be mindful of future relationship issues. Don’t force an agreement that makes the other party resentful and angry. Help them save face, or the agreement won’t last and you will have to go through the process again. It will be more difficult to renegotiate than to negotiate thoughtfully the first time.”

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to prepare and plan ahead of time. “Winging it” will lead to disaster which, unfortunately, I have seen all too often. The same way that athletes “visualize” what they are about to do, so should a negotiator. Think it through; “visualize” how you want the negotiation or mediation to proceed. Doing so will improve immensely your chances of reaching a resolution.

. . .Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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