The Negotiator Magazine

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Renegotiating with Integrity

Marc Freeman

Negotiating is a necessary part of life. Most of us don’t realize how often we negotiate deals and relationships. While negotiation is an essential skill, re-negotiating is far more tightly woven into the fabric of our lives. Renegotiating is the art of altering, revising, or changing a previously negotiated relationship. This relationship can be in the form of any professional or personal contract or commitment involving a written or oral promise.
If you have ever missed a deadline and must explain why you were late you now have to renegotiate your previous commitment. How you renegotiate this will be critical. Also, how often you tend to be late will be critical in determining how you will approach this renegotiation.

But what is renegotiation? It is basically reneging on a promise or commitment. We often don’t think very highly of people who fail to keep their promises or commitments. Nevertheless, it is possible to renegotiate with integrity. We can renegotiate successfully and keep our reputation intact — whether we’re the ones who must break a commitment, or the ones on the receiving end of a broken commitment.
The need to renegotiate a deal does not mean the original negotiation was a failure. Most deals probably won’t remain completely satisfactory for both parties. And if the contract is a problem for one party, then it is a problem for the other. Renegotiating is an ideal response in most instances.

Before the renegotiation process can begin, we must admit that we are reneging on a promise or agreement we’ve made. This starting point will afford a valuable perspective on what we’re attempting to do when  renegotiating. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we are not breaking or changing a promise or commitment. This is why the approach is so critical.
Don’t ever try to “spin” this perspective. It won’t work, and it’s not honest. Be clear about what you’re doing when you renegotiate, and your position will be much more positively received. On the other hand, don’t feel guilty that you can’t keep your promise: guilt is a waste of time. Renegotiating is inevitable because things change. Just understand renegotiating for what it is — an opportunity to change a relationship or agreement that is no longer working.
While the renegotiation process can be tricky, there are five principles which will greatly increase the probability that all parties will walk away from the table happy with the results:

1. The Critical Path
Principle: Follow the Critical Path to renegotiate properly.

The Critical Path identifies four milestones:

The Common Ground (#1) is when both parties have committed to renegotiating. You go to your landlord because you need to break your lease because you lost your job and you can’t afford the payments anymore. The landlord agrees to think about a solution. Now you can move forward because you have a Common Ground with the landlord.

The landlord offers you a discount if you can give him some assurances. Now you have created a Plausible Solution (#2).

The Comfort Zone (#3) involves working out the details of the Plausible Solution: e.g., how much rent you can afford, versus how much is the landlord willing to take off.

Once you’ve arrived at a Comfort Zone agreeable to both parties, you must put it in writing. This written document, once signed, is the Settlement (#4). Deals and agreements often change dramatically during this process.

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January 2007