Preparing to negotiate successfully

Negotiation should be the starting point for solving many conflicts before they escalate to the courts, explains Saranjit Minhas, qualified dispute resolution solicitor at Cox Minhas Solicitors & Mediators based in Brixworth, Northamptonshire.

Negotiation is something the majority of us start learning from infanthood onwards, so why is it that so many adults seem to be absolutely terrible at this most important of skills?

As a solicitor dealing with commercial disputes on a daily basis, negotiation is an essential part of my work. Although sometimes it is necessary to issue or defend legal proceedings, most disputes are best settled through some form of negotiation, a route actively encouraged by the judiciary.

Careful preparation is vital to achieving a successfully negotiated outcome, regardless of whether you are working through a dispute or non-contentious negotiations, such as a disagreement with business suppliers, a landlord or the bank.

Here follow some of the most effective points I have learnt from this process in over 10 years of negotiating for our legal clients:

1. Question your own case

Before entering into a formal negotiation ask yourself what the strengths and weaknesses of your case are? Be prepared to answer difficult questions. In a negotiation it is tempting to surround yourself with like-minded ‘yes people,’ but also discuss matters with someone you trust to be objective and potentially critical. What about the opposing party? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Are there any questions you want to ask them, if you can, ahead of the formal negotiation to better learn what their position is?

2. Are you the best negotiator?

Consider whether you are the best person to conduct the actual negotiation? We all have strengths and weaknesses built into our personality and psyche. Try taking a Myers Briggs questionnaire to help understand your particular psychological preferences and what sort of decision maker you are.

3. Is your case clear?

Make sure you are very clear about the principles, facts, figures and any dates relating to your case. Gather as much information as you can about the other party’s case and ask questions ahead of any formal negotiation so that you will have all of the information you need.

4. Expanding the pie

Consider the bigger picture for a moment. Is there anything else, or even something unrelated to the immediate negotiation which either party could use or giveaway to help reach a settlement?

5. Keep the end goal in sight

What is your walk-away position or, as professional negotiators categorise it, the ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement?’ Entering into a negotiation knowing what the alternative to a settlement is will give you the confidence to negotiate hard, or walk away if talks ultimately break down.

6. Who makes the first offer?

It is really important to establish where to start your negotiation. This is known as ‘anchoring’ and can hugely effect the final outcome. What are you prepared to settle for and what is your desired conclusion or ‘Zone of Possible Agreement.’

7. Where’s the exit?

At what point in the negotiation are you going to walk-away. Have an end destination in mind but also be prepared to adjust this as events unfold.