Monday, 22 September 2008


So we have had lessons in the ancient art of negotiation. Some of the class nearly came to blows, and some came to mind blowingly awful settlements on behalf of the client.

Me? I settled in each of the 6 tasks in about a minute each. And came to the best settlements in the whole class. Therefore, I am worried. Am I the best negotiator since Inspector Frost or was I just lucky? I suspect the latter. I don't think that the Police will be calling on my to resolve hostage situations, or to talk desperate people down from tall buildings.

I read the case, assessed the points that were not agreed, and then decided what a fair settlement would be. Worked the discussion to the point that what I said was fair, so how could you refuse it. If you do refuse it you are an idiot. They accepted it, job done. in fact, I even pushed things to gain more than I thought was fair.

I wonder if my experience with Family Law negotiations has made it seem this simple, or my nagging doubt that I was just lucky and the proper assessed negotiation will be a different kettle of fish and I will lose out completely.

I assumed that there must be something on the course that I will be good at, but now that I may have found it I am suspicious.

I have read all the stuff I can find on negotiation and I have used one approach out of the five suggested. Compromising. (Possibly a little collaborating too). I have yet to try using competing, avoiding or accommodating.

So, other than being argumentative with people and being a complete bully in any discussions I have on a daily basis, such as negotiating the television for the evening rather than just accept that watching re-runs of Strictly Come Dancing is easiest for a quiet life, or insisting that I do not want sausages for dinner, but would prefer steak, and then negotiate a settlement that includes chips. Chips seems good to me whatever comes with it!

What to do? Any suggestions for good books to read, or methods of getting some practice that won't bring me close to divorce or losing all of my business clients and friends?



The 50-Year-Old Pupil said...

In my actual negotiation assessment we had an actual student to student negotiation. The main point at issue was when exactly a lease had been surrendered and hence how much rent was owed. I always like to open the discussion so, after setting the agenda, I opened that my client would insist that the lease was surrendered when the keys were pushed through the letter box. I had anticipated that my opponent would repond that the lease was not terminated until the property was relet some 6 months later. Some litigation risk being attached to each side, I had imagined that we would come somewhere down in the middle with me getting the better of it.

Unfortunately, my opponent went to pieces and on my initial gambit just said "Errr, OK then." At this point I went to pieces too.

Opponent got the New York City blues. I got a poor pass.

Opponent subsequently told me that they had been intimidated by the pile of Excel printouts of various scenarios and interest rates that I had in front of me.

Think on young man!

Bar Boy said...

It is impossible to negotiate anything with someone who is useless. In real life, you have no choice but to retire and suggest that the other party consider their position. How this plays in a wholly artificial one-off classroom situation, I guess I will find out in due course, but I am wondering whether it is preferable to be paired with a good student. Otherwise, how can you show your own skills ?

Swiss Tony said...

BB, I found that the majority of the class wanted to win at all costs. Lines were drawn and there would be no give and take, and total annihilation was the only solution. By the end of each session there was no settlement.

The best students, and by that I mean the most confident ones were worse at giving an inch. The timid students put up no fight at all, or even a decent argument and gave away the crown jewels and the keys to their car, providing they could stop the arguing.

I think a part of it is seeing what is a sensible settlement for your client and achieving it. If you can gain a few more little points then all well and good. I don't think its is about wiping the floor with the other party. Some of them were arguing about whether the agreement should be drawn up in blue or black ink. Thats how bad things were.

Unless of course, I am deceiving myself and I was useless. I do think I am lacking experience in the different stances that could be taken because my usual conciliatory stance always seems to work. I don't want to be a one trick pony. I know that will catch me out, particularly at assessment time, or if I get one of the 'difficult' students.


advocatus diaboli said...

The key to good negotiation is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your client's case and to actually be constructive in your approach to your negotiation. They do not want to see tit-for-tat bartering which requires no skill and they certainly don't want to see you go beyond your instructions (instant fail). Neither are they impressed by people who try to drive a hard bargain for the sake of it and who don't recognise that negotiation is inevitably about compromise. If you are able to set out what your offer is and why you think your client's position is strong enough to warrant what you are asking for, then you will stand a good chance. Do not allow yourself to get into a pointless debate about intricate legal issues - the whole point of a negotiation is to avoid exactly that. The quality of your opponent will to some extent dictate the quality of your performance, but not completely. If your opponent caves in at the slightest whiff of an offer there is nothing you can do about that, but you can make sure that you settle the detail of any agreement and make sure your assessor knows that you have covered every angle. Hope this helps... AD :-)

Bar Boy said...

Swiss, out of curiosity, how do the ages of the different students impact on approach. Just a guess, but is it the younger ones who tend towards the more enthusisatic but unrealistic end of the spectrum, whereas the older students are those that adopt the more measured or pragmatic approach.

Swiss Tony said...

AD, thanks for your insight. It would seem that I am probably quite good at negotiation then! I am unsure just how much practice we will get before the assessment, but hopefully I will get to test a few other approaches so that they sink into my thick head.

BB, funnily enough, everyone seems to be young from where I am standing! There are 3 of the group who I would say are a bit more gobby than the rest, and who are more confident. They were the worst. One of the negotiations was between two of the gobshites,, and that was the one that was arguing about the colour pen to use!

Maybe my maturity is helping. It is nice to not be struggling to follow things, which I did all through the GDL.

Anyway, you will be pleased to know that tonight I will be eating steak and chips in front of the telly, and it will be a rerun of Top Gear! I dare anyone to try arguing with me!


Anonymous said...

If you have an idiot you need to say contrived sh*t like "well thats good that you agree, I did have some compromises prepared (these will be in your plan) but as we have settled I am sure my client will be greatful". However if you do get an idiot then you are still screwed to a certain extent though as no matter how good you cold still get throw off by moronic comments such as "did the dog see you" or "what is the claim again"?

But this isnt an issue at COL of BPP as you get practitioners in your assessment not other students.

As with all these contrived situations (from the marks of some of my cohort it seems) you can be brilliant all the way along and cr*p on the day, or rubbish all along and ace the day!!! I personaly think the assesment should be best out of 3.

Mr Pineapples said...

Here's some thoughts which might help:

Negotiation is not winning the battle - outwitting the other side and gaining a massive advantage....that is litigation in the raw - dont forget that you are trying to show how you can negotiate.

In the final assessment they wont be marking you on whether you "won" - but on how you negotiated - which includes listening skills - getting to the point - planning your time - and coming up with solutions and suggestions. Even if the other side dont like your solutions - the fact that you have offered them is good.

So easy to get embroiled on legal issues - so at the very start say something like:

"We have a legal point we can discuss -can we limit this to 5 minutes and then move on."

You are not there to discuss law - which you will not agree on - but to negotiate a workable settlement.

So plan out the areas you will cover and stick to it. Show the assessor that you are sticking to the plan.


P has spoken

Legal Lass said...

I detested negotiation at the BVC and never once truly understood what a good negotiation in the eyes of the college came down to... Getting a good result for your client, if not "fair", would result in you being marked down, only using one technique which avoided hectoring your opponent meant you would get marked down, asking questions at the beginning would get you marked down, asking questions during it would get you marked down... A friend who came second in the national negotiation competition barely scraped a VC on the college marking systems - which seemed to add weight to my irritation. Negotiation is such an important skill for a barrister, but so badly taught in my opinion.


Mel said...

I think it's a hard skill to teach, and each place seems to teach a slightly different approach. At my uni, it was a very softly softly 'let's all shake hands and play nice' approach, while on a vac scheme we were told to be much more goal-oriented (than relationship oriented).

The mature students at uni, particularly a worldly chap with lots of life experience as yourself tended to do really well, and so it wouldn't surprise me in the least if this was your strong point. Negotiation is just people skills, and being able to see the wood for the trees - and clearly, you have that in buckets.

Mr Pineapples said...




Mel said...

Hehe. It's called accentuating the positive, Pineapples! And it's true...

Android said...

Go Tony! Get the highest grade for Negotiation in the end, you can do it :)