Disputes: the art of effective negotiation

June 4, 2019
Geraint Pinches


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Many business relationships break down and disputes arise not because of diametrically opposed views on the future path of the business or the project or venture, but because people become entrenched in their views, or they want to have their cake and eat it.

But like most things in life, it doesn’t work like that. Effective resolution of a dispute isn’t about winning on every point or, worse, point scoring against your adversary. It is about finding common ground (which is normally a common desire to resolve a problem on terms you can live with, and to move on). If you find yourself in dispute, whether with a business partner, or even someone in your personal life, it’s normally because at least one of the parties is being, and continues to be, unreasonable.

It was JFK who said that we should never negotiate out of fear, but equally we should never fear to negotiate. And, by negotiating, we are more likely be able to avoid a dispute altogether or, if we cannot (because, say, the other party is being manifestly unreasonable and doesn’t know how to negotiate effectively), we can at least feel partly satisfied that we’ve done our utmost to avoid one.

Here are my 5 Golden Rules about the art of effective negotiation during disputes.

  1. Before you even start negotiating, identify what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you have a weakness in your argument, accept that it is a weakness, don’t labour it, and move on. Be realistic about what you can win, and what you may lose.
  2. Never get personal. Don’t take things personally (this is business) and, equally, don’t get personal about someone else, their conduct, their values (or lack of them) or their personality. All this causes is an otherwise successful negotiation to blow up in your face.
  3. It’s about give and take. Be prepared to concede a point which, in the cold light of day, is unimportant to you but may be very important to the other party.
  4. Listen carefully to what the person you’re in disputes with has to say. Do not interrupt them. Do not smirk at them or be dismissive towards them even if you think what they say or feel is absurd.
  5. Be honest, reasonable and act with integrity. 99% of people will appreciate you for that and, if they appreciate it, they’re more likely to want to find a way to focus on the one thing you have in common: to resolve your differences.