How To Start A Successful Negotiation

From the blog of Nancy Hudgins

Social psychologists point to mounds of research to prove that likeability is a major component of persuasion (e.g., Cialdini, The Psychology of Influence). Management professors invoke research to show that civility is important to closing the deal (e.g., Conger, Winning ‘Em Over). Legal scholars cite multiple studies to prove that building rapport is the most important initial phase of a negotiation (e.g., Craver, Effective Legal Negotiation and Settlement).

If you think about it, even our grandmothers knew this: “You get more with honey than with vinegar.”

First impressions count and every negotiation begins there. Your initial tone sets the stage. If you are positive, respectful, and professional, you start out ahead. If you or your mediator prefer not to start with a joint session, make sure you introduce yourself to everyone on the other side. Welcome them. Thank them for coming. Shake hands and make small talk.

If you are negotiating face-to-face, think of small talk as an integral part of the negotiation. It’s never wasted. The best negotiator I know can spend an hour on small talk before he gets down to business. By the end of that time, the other side sees him as a human being, not as “the enemy.” He gets fabulous results.

If this notion of the power of small talk is foreign to you, or if you have never appreciated its value, take some time to prepare for this “phase” of the negotiation. Think about topics that will bring you and the other side together, instead of figuring out how to keep yourselves apart. You will be laying the groundwork for a successful negotiation.


Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class… MORE >

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