“I just want what’s fair and reasonable,” a friend said in the midst of his divorce. “That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

“Of course not,” I replied. “The key here, though, is how to determine what’s fair and reasonable. I suspect you have a very different perception of what’s ‘fair and reasonable’ than your soon-to-be-ex-wife. We need to figure out how to get her to accept your proposal as fair and reasonable. Not only to you, but to her, too.”

Next time someone says to you in a negotiation that something is “fair,” “reasonable,” “unfair,” “unreasonable,” “realistic,” or “unrealistic” ask them why. What is the underlying justification for their conclusion that it is fair or reasonable or unfair or unreasonable.

What, if any strategic information is shared with the statements “Fair” or “Unfair”?

Nothing. The terms “fair,” “reasonable,” “unfair,” “unreasonable,” “realistic,” or “unrealistic” communicate no information. Instead, care about is what is the underlying justification for their conclusion that it’s fair and reasonable. Is it because of some powerful independent standards? Is it because of market value? Or is it unfair and unreasonable because be unprecedented for us to include that provision in these types of deals.

The quest for fairness and the perception of fairness serve as central elements in many negotiations. Fairness, in most instances, boils down to a matter of relatively objective standards and/or an independent process that ensures an acceptable, “fair and reasonable” result. If both sides can agree on an independent standard that is fair and reasonable, or on an independent process that inevitably will conclude with a fair outcome, the deal will likely be done. If not, it’s far more difficult to reach agreement.

For example, finding and using an independent standard or process that favors your side, like market value—and then negotiating over what’s “fair”—will provide you with a distinct advantage. It also will help you keep that “reasonable” hat on your head—an important element for your reputation and success.



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