“I feel so committed to my client that I have a really hard time being objective and analytical in my negotiations on their behalf,” a lawyer told me recently. “I really take things personally. What should I do?”
This issue, which can also impact those negotiating for themselves and is a reason some hire agents to negotiate for them, is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it’s effective to empathize and deeply understand your clients’ needs and concerns. This level of commitment helps you communicate the depth of your clients’ interests. And your strong personal belief in these interests increases the likelihood your counterparts will accept them as true and sincere.
On the other hand, it can be harmful to the extent it prevents you from objectively analyzing the negotiation and clouds your judgment. It can also make it difficult to truly step into your counterparts’ shoes and fully appreciate their interests.
What should you do?
1. Develop a written strategic plan
While regular readers of my column will recognize this strategy – which I recommend in all significant negotiations – it’s especially crucial here. Why? Because writing down your strategies and tactics, and regularly reviewing them, helps keep you focused and limits the extent that you will get distracted by the depth of your personal feelings.
Assume you and your client evaluate your Plan B (or best alternative to a deal) as investing in a new plant and technology – which your expert estimates will put your client’s company at a value of $25 million. This would be instead of your client’s selling, your Plan A. And you write down your Plan B, a major element of your leverage, as part of your plan.
But you and your client get more and more emotionally committed to a sale the longer the negotiation lasts with a private equity group, to the point that your client seriously considers settling for $20 million. Reviewing your plan with your client would remind you of your leverage and counsel you to recommend that your client wait or push back and ask for more.
2. Take regular breaks
I recently attended a conference for academics in the conflict management field and spoke with an expert in how emotion impacts negotiations. He suggested that taking regular breaks during an in-person negotiation – and reassessing your strategies then – is an effective way to address this challenge. I agree.
You might even take a walk during those breaks. A change of scenery and getting your blood flowing can help give you needed perspective.
3. Focus on standards
Finally, focusing on independent standards like a deal’s expected profitability, an expert’s market value assessment, or what your counterpart has included in similar deals (precedent) can ground your feelings and help you be more objective.
Such standards also depersonalize the negotiation environment and give you and your client a principled basis for your moves.
Internationally known social psychologist Robert Cialdini, the bestselling author of Influence: Science and Practice, concisely synthesized this in a recent conversation with me when he advised that you should pay particular attention to these standards and your written plan during your breaks.
Latz’s Lesson: The depth of your personal feelings in a negotiation can help or hurt you – so write down your critical strategies and take regular breaks to review them.
Published July 5, 2015 The Arizona Republic