I recently led a seminar with a panel of expert negotiators, and each shared a particularly effective strategy they had used in their careers. Here are their pearls.
• Creatively explore the parties’ interests.
Judge John Buttrick of the Maricopa County Superior Court told of a case in which a product manufacturer sued a trade magazine regarding negative product reviews because it felt they were false and unjustified. The magazine sued the manufacturer as it believed the manufacturer had unfairly publicly criticized the magazine.
After both parties had spent a lot on legal fees, they focused on each side’s fundamental interests and realized money was not the problem. Their main interests were their reputations and future relationships.
The lesson? Uncover the fundamental interests underlying the parties’ positions. These are the parties’ needs, desires, concerns and fears. They are why the parties want something as opposed to what they want.
• Emphasize your competitive advantage.
Reg Ballantyne, a former American Hospital Association chair and Vanguard Health Systems senior corporate officer, described an instance in which the local health care system he previously led sought to cover the patients in a new community. In that negotiation, his relatively small system was competing with several much larger entities.
How did he get the deal? Focused on his competitive advantage. His system could provide faster and more efficient service and was more in sync with their community interests than his bigger competitors.
• Disarm with charm.
Adams & Clark founder Karen Clark shared a story in which a miscommunication led to her counterpart losing his temper and getting visibly upset. What did she do? Smiled and made light of his overreaction with a funny and disarming comment that defused his anger. She then calmly explained the miscommunication, and the negotiation got back on track.
Humor can be very productively used in many settings, including to defuse tense negotiations.
• Rely on an independent, fair process.
Gary Birnbaum, an Arizona State law associate dean and Mariscal Weeks McIntyre & Friedlander managing partner, shared a story in which two individuals in a dispute couldn’t negotiate an agreement themselves. However, they could agree on a process to resolve it. Each side selected an expert, and those two experts selected a third expert. And they all agreed to abide by those experts’ collective decision.
Just because you might not be able to negotiate an agreement, don’t give up if it’s a deal worth doing.
• Protect your reputation.
Mark Harrison, a former American Academy of Appellate Lawyers president and Osborn Maledon partner, kept returning to a critical strategy. Protect your reputation. And remember, your reputation is determined by what your counterparts say about you after the negotiation.
Published July 1, 2010 The Arizona Republic