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‘PREPARATION IS KEY.’ The first of Attorney Rob Mallari’s articles on negotiation.

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The Law Firm of Mallari Fiel Brillante Ronquillo

For most of us the word ‘negotiation’ conjures up images of politicians or union leaders, sitting round a table hammering out a deal. Nothing to do with us, right? Well, wrong, actually. Because when you think about it, life is full of negotiations. What about that discussion with your partner about whether to watch a re-run of Sex and the City on HBO or that Golden State Warriors finals game on the NBA channel? Or that debate with your bestie about keeping your group selfie on your Facebook page despite a mad emoji delivered to your messenger? Or that chat with your boss about a raise? The fact is, we negotiate all the time, we just call it something else.  So maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be a little better at it?

Having recently completed a course in Negotiation at Harvard University, I thought I might share with you some of the knowledge I gained in Cambridge by publishing some articles on the subject which I hope you will find interesting and relevant, even though you aren’t Angela Merkel. (Or perhaps you are? Hello ma’am!)

Let’s start with some tips on how to prepare to negotiate.

  1. Have a problem-solving mindset.

    As a lawyer I must admit that some of our clients expect us to win all the time (at any cost, I might add!)  even in those situations which do not involve a judge to decide who’s right or wrong. I can’t blame them; people often approach negotiation with the narrow view that winning is everything. Experts at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, however, encouraged us to look at our negotiations as ‘a shared problem to be solved jointly.’

    The term they use is collaborative enterprise. The idea is to bridge the gap between two opposing claims by creating value out of the parties’ differences. As a negotiator for yourself or others, try to play the role of a problem-solver where the parties sit down and brainstorm on ways to make everybody happy at the end of the process. You might think that’s impossible, but think again. The trick is to be willing to trade on your preferences across different issues, sort of trying to make all parties win some.

  2. Preparation is the key.

    This is where self-awareness comes in handy. Preparation, in the context of negotiation, includes being conscious of your own talents and resources and figuring out how to use them in getting the best out of a negotiation. Sometimes you might even have to take a step back after realizing that you are not the best person to negotiate a particular transaction.

    I cannot stress enough that lack of preparation can lead to either insecurities or overconfidence. In both cases, it is due to the negotiator’s failure to appreciate the facts as they really are. How a negotiator will approach a situation is greatly influenced by the extent and accuracy of his or her knowledge of the parties’ claims, priorities and room for concessions.

    So, do not just rely on your seat of the pants wisdom. Do your homework. Start by making an inventory of your own skills and experience. Get to know the parties to the negotiation, and you can ask your colleagues to help you assess your and the other party’s set of options.

  3. Create your Allies.

    The classic example used in our negotiation course was when the US rallied support for the Gulf War following Saddam Hussein’s military invasion of Kuwait. George H. W. Bush’s government convinced the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein was bad for Kuwait, so when the US took the chair of the council it was able to achieve a resolution to use force against Hussein. James Baker, George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State, summed it up best when he said: “get your allies on board first.”

    To apply this wisdom to our negotiations, we simply have to remember that we can use a bit of help from our networks of friends, acquaintances and people of good repute who can influence the way those at the negotiating table perceive our goals. The aim is not to create a hostile environment; it’s about encouraging people to pay attention to what we have to say. And hopefully, having done our homework, we will actually have something useful to say.

  4. Identify and Assess your BATNA.

    One cannot begin and end a negotiation course at Harvard without learning what BATNA means. Technically, it means your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. It’s what we might otherwise call our fall-back option or back-up plan or our plan b. We cannot enter a negotiation without an alternative solution to our present dilemma independent of the will of the party at the other end of the table. To do so might potentially lead to dismal concessions, which could be even worse than having no agreement at all.

    Since I cannot improve on Professor Lawrence Susskind, allow me to quote him verbatim:  “[w]hen managing the tension between creating and claiming value, you must determine the point at which you would walk away from the current negotiation and accept your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. Because it allows you to reject a mediocre agreement, a strong BATNA is typically your best source of power in a negotiation.”

  5. Decide on your reservation values and goals.

    The two important values we need to identify are: (a) the reservation value, or the bottom line, and (b) the aspiration level, or the goal.

    The reservation value is the resistance point, meaning the least you will accept in the current negotiation. If the other party cannot meet this value, e.g. the price of whatever commodity you’re bargaining for, then you must be willing to walk away and be content with your BATNA.

    The aspiration level, is the potential value you can create out of the current negotiation which far exceeds your BATNA. You may or may not achieve it; but the hope is that the outcome of your negotiation will closely resemble the rosiest scenario you pictured in your head when you first began analyzing the parties’ options.

  6. Aim for a Win-Win Scenario.

    This was probably my favorite part of the lecture on value-creation, because it was where we were asked to exercise empathy and just for once to stop being so selfish. The lesson here is to see the bigger picture and widen one’s horizons beyond what can be gained from a single transaction.

    As negotiators, we can develop an eye not only for the tangible interests but also the intangible ones, such as building a long-term relationship or saving face in the aftermath of an error. It is an invitation for people in the negotiation to talk and keep an open mind about what each party to the transaction may claim as value, even if at the beginning it seemed as though their interests were inherently incompatible.

    Parties in a brainstorming session can start this process by identifying the shared interests and differing interests, in the hope that somewhere down this road they can identify the values (or rewards) they’re willing to accept and those that they are inclined to give away.

    In my experience as a lawyer in the Philippines attending mediation conferences in court-annexed alternative dispute resolution proceedings, mediators will always begin their facilitation by saying that their mandate is to reach a win-win solution. In a way, that’s the lesson this tip is hoping to impart: there’s no need for someone to be leaving the room with a sad face.

    (Reference: This article is a rewrite of the article entitled “Negotiation Basics, Master Class – New Report” published on 2017 by Professor Lawrence Susskind and the Master Class Teaching Team at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A. and the author makes no claims of unrestricted right to ownership over the copyrighted materials belonging to aforesaid source.)


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