Have you ever been in a circumstance where your child wants to borrow your car, but has failed to complete his homework, failed to take out the trash, and then accuses you of not following through on your promise to make the family auto available every other Friday night? And all of this comes to a head ten minutes before your son is due to pick up his friend to go to the movie.
This scenario presents a classic situation familiar to all negotiators—too little time and too many issues. What is the savvy negotiator to do? First, narrow the points of contention. Did you agree to make the car available on this Friday? If so, give your son the car. As a condition of this compromise, require your son to meet with you on Saturday morning to go over the other points of contention. Go from there.
Why does this family scenario have anything to do with a law firm’s blog? Well, lawyers face much more challenging problems every day, and good lawyers make a habit of training themselves in negotiation. In his recent book, Talent is Overrated, author Geoff Colvin contends that “what really separates world-class performers from everyone else” is deliberate practice. In the realm of effective negotiation, deliberate practice means study. Since no one encounters every possible negotiation scenario, one can at least anticipate difficult scenarios through the study of hypothetical situations. Of course, these ideas are equally relevant to non-lawyers.
How can anyone undertake the deliberate practice of enhancing one’s negotiations skills? The Harvard Program on Negotiation offers a variety of articles and tips on negotiation. It is an excellent source of ideas and information for the study of negotiation.
Here is an article relevant to the scenario of the son who did not do his homework. It concludes that “narrowing the set of negotiable issues to a manageable number may not be optimal economically, but it may raise the odds of a deal.” So, reaching an agreement that your son can use your car provided he agrees to meet on Saturday morning to discuss his homework and chores is a strategy that has a better chance of avoiding a major conflict and reaching a deal. Another good strategy is to take a deep breath and count to ten—just kidding!« Back to news