Whether it happens informally on the telephone or in a more formal face-to-face meeting, the beginning of a negotiation can be critical to its success. First words and impressions are lasting; if you get off to the wrong start, it can erode trust, dampen optimism about the outlook for settlement, and increase the probability of deadlock.
Think of the opening as an opportunity to set a positive, productive tone for the remainder of your negotiation. Beyond that, the opening can be used to clarify assumptions and expectations, build rapport, and lend structure to the discussion. Use the opening to introduce your client’s positions, interests, and aspirations, as you invite your counterpart to participate in setting the agenda and a joint process.
Here are 5 tips to kicking off a successful negotiation:
- Set the right tone. Through your tone you should try to develop a rapport with your counterpart, convey understanding of or empathy toward the other side, and assure the other side that you are participating in good faith.
- Introduce a problem-solving orientation. Get away from arguing about right and wrong, and instead try to turn the dispute into a deal.
- Convey your client’s perspective and aspirations for settlement. Focus on your client’s point of view and his or her interests.
- Agree on an agenda, goals, and a process. Reach agreements about how you and your counterpart are going to work together and what you are going to accomplish.
- Consider each side’s negotiation style. It’s helpful to understand your own negotiation style and how it interacts with other styles, including that of your counterpart.
For more on negotiation and alternative dispute resolution skills generally, go to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chaps 45-46. Also, check out our related blog post on the Negotiation Numbers Game.
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