Conducting settlement discussions without an agenda is like driving to an unfamiliar destination without a map: It’s possible, but not very efficient. If time and professionalism are valuable to you, conduct your negotiations with an agenda.
Regardless of whether the settlement discussions will take shape during informal discussions between the principals or in a highly orchestrated way with multiple participants flying in from around the country, it’s useful toward the beginning of the process to reach some agreements about how to work together and what to accomplish.
Consider inviting the other side to help you come up with an agenda—it can be helpful to design a joint process that’s tailored to both sides’ needs and both of your negotiating styles.
You can limit the agenda to an upcoming meeting or it can be more ambitious, setting the framework for a series of meetings. It doesn’t have to be drawn up in advance, either: If you find yourself in a meeting that’s not getting any traction, call a break and get everyone’s input on how you can make the most productive use of your remaining time.
Here are some issues you may wish to address in your agenda:
- What is the purpose of our discussion?
- Is the goal to resolve the entire case, or to carve out some issues for adjudication and others for settlement?
- Should we deal with all of the defendants/plaintiffs concurrently, or does it make more sense to pursue discussions with each group one after the other?
- What can we realistically expect to achieve in this meeting?
- What issues do we want to discuss or resolve in this meeting?
- How much time do we have?
- What needs to be done in preparation for the meeting, by when, and by whom?
Even if you stray from your agenda, the simple act of focusing your thoughts on what tasks need to be accomplished will save time and prevent discussion of unnecessary subjects. In addition, don’t underestimate the value of agreeing on something as simple as an agenda. By doing so, you’re foreshadowing future agreements and setting the stage for a cooperative working relationship.
For more tips to help you improve on your negotiation skills, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chap 46. And check out CEB’s CLE program Overcoming Settlement Impasse, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts on negotiation skills:
- 5 Tips for Kicking Off a Successful Negotiation
- 4 Tips on How to Be Both Assertive and Effective in Settlement Negotiations
- When Settlement Negotiations Hit a Wall
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