Posted on Aug 1, 2023
Negotiation plays a significant role in both our personal and professional lives. We negotiate when we ask for a pay rise, when we are trying to convince children to eat vegetables, or when we are working to close a business deal. For most lawyers, negotiation is one of the most important professional skills to develop as it is one of the most frequently used. While negotiation skills come naturally for some lawyers it can take more practice for others. Learn more about these five simple negotiation tactics to build your skills as a lawyer.
1. Be prepared for surprises
Being prepared for surprises is one of the great negotiation tactics for a lawyer to master. It's more common than you think for clients to bring up new information immediately before or during a negotiation. This might come as a bit of a surprise to the lawyer. New information can change the direction of a negotiation and may mean you need to come up with a new approach. This can be very stressful for both you and your client.
So before you go into a negotiation make sure to prepare yourself mentally for anything unexpected. This means you won't react as strongly and you'll be able to think more clearly if new information is uncovered. If you feel like you need to gather your thoughts it's fine to say “all this information is new – we need a moment to discuss it and then we will come back”.
You can never avoid surprises entirely, but you can find ways to minimise the risk of them happening. One strategy is to be very thorough in your questions to your client ahead of a negotiation. Don't be afraid to ask questions that have the potential to uncover awkward information - it is much better to identify this information in the early stages of the process.
2. Build rapport
Being able to build rapport is one of the many professional skills a lawyer must have - especially at the negotiation table. It might seem counterintuitive to try to build rapport with your counterpart - especially if there is a lot of friction between the clients. But building rapport helps to create a dynamic that is less aggressive and more collaborative, which means you will be more likely to reach a positive outcome for both parties. So what are some easy ways to start building rapport around the negotiation table?
Why not start the negotiation with five-minutes of small talk? An unofficial chat can be a great way to break the tension in the room. Why not mention a hobby that you like? Disclosing personal information has proven to be an effective way of starting to build rapport.
Another way to build rapport is to have a meal together. Yes, it might seem unlikely but research shows that eating together during a negotiation will improve its outcomes. So why not schedule an informal negotiation over lunch or coffee?
Don't underestimate the importance of building rapport. The connection you have with your counterpart can make a big difference in how the negotiation plays out for your client.
3. Listen and ask the right questions
Practicing active listening is crucial in the context of a negotiation. By practicing active listening, you will gather more information and gain a better understanding of the opposing party and the underlying issues that matter to them.
Active listening involves listening to what the opposing party is saying, asking open questions to elicit information, then summarising and paraphrasing to confirm you have understood what has been said. It’s also important to be mindful of your own behaviour and body language when you are practicing active listening.
This means you should avoid any distractions while the opposing party is talking such as flicking your pen or looking at your phone. This can come across as disrespectful, and unprofessional.
So listen to your counterpart's arguments, and suppress the urge to think about what you're going to say next. Most likely, the other parties will show you the same courtesy in return - resulting in better communication between you.
4. Manage emotions
As a lawyer, it's important not to be afraid of negotiations getting emotional. When a client is shouting, is offensive, or crying it can be easy to let your own emotions take over and get stressed. Instead, try to remind yourself that your client - and the opposing party - are dealing with problems that are very important to them. You also need to know how to manage strong emotions. If you don't, there is a risk that the parties will stop thinking rationally and fail to negotiate in a way that takes everyone's interests into account.
So practice being okay with strong emotions. Try to accept that negotiation can be a rollercoaster where feelings go from happiness, to sadness, or anxiety, then back to happiness! If you’re prepared for the ups and downs you're more likely to keep calm and stay attuned to your client’s state of mind. If your client has a strong emotional reaction you can act to support them - such as asking for a break if they start to get overwhelmed. Remove your client from the situation, and let them calm down.
5. Manage “dealbreakers”
One of the most common pitfalls in negotiations is lawyers failing to effectively handle “dealbreakers”. Dealbreakers often paint each side into a corner and leave little space for collaboration. This is detrimental to the negotiation process, so it’s important to learn negotiation tactics to navigate dealbreakers.
When an opposing party is setting out their dealbreakers, it can be tempting to go into "battle". After all, you don't want to just give up and come out as a loser! But, having a winner-loser mentality in negotiation can be very detrimental. The problem with ‘winning’ a negotiation is that the other party may simply regard it as the first battle in a long war. Think about the quote “The best negotiations are the ones when both or all sides walk away satisfied”. Always aim for a win-win situation.
The best negotiations are the ones when both or all sides walk away satisfied.
A good tactic for handling dealbreakers is to ask "what if" questions. Asking "what if" questions shows that you're willing to take a problem-solving approach to their proposal.
These five negotiation tactics can help you to strengthen your approach to negotiation. If you are interested in building your skills in this area, you can browse our courses on negotiation skills for lawyers.