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Patience is a Virtue When People Negotiate

By Charles B. Craver

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When individuals begin bargaining interactions, the two sides are usually a fair distance apart. One side is seeking different terms and a relatively generous monetary payment, while the other has different interests and is offering very little. After they articulate their respective positions and the reasons supporting those offers, the gap between them seems insurmountable. If they endeavor to lower the first side’s demands and raise the other side’s offers on an expedited basis, they almost always reach an impasse. Neither side is willing to make significant concessions, and it is easy for the participants to begin to move toward their non-settlement alternatives.

I often observe this phenomenon when I mediate employment claims. The plaintiff attorneys begin with elevated monetary demands, while the defense lawyers begin with minimal offers. There are frequently other issues the parties wish to consider, but fail to do so seriously due to their substantial monetary differences. For example, will the employer reverse its decision to terminate the plaintiff? Will the plaintiff give up its demand for reinstatement if his former employer will convert the discharge to a resignation, provide him with a good recommendation, and promise not to provide any other reference information? If the plaintiff is pursuing a sexual harassment claim, will her employer apologize for not rectifying the situation more swiftly and indicate that she is a valued employee? In many harassment cases, the victim is psychologically hurt by the failure of her employer to move more expeditiously, and thinks that such inaction was due to a lack of respect for her job performance.

I learn more about the negotiation process when I mediate cases than I do when I am involved in negotiations on behalf of particular parties. This is due to the fact I am more of an observer when I mediate. Although I am actively involved, I get to watch what the bargaining parties are doing. I can see what they are doing effectively – and what they are doing ineffectively. When I think that the exploration of nonmonetary issues may help the parties move closer together, I usually ask questions designed to see what the disputants might be willing to consider. In most cases when I initially pose such inquiries, the parties make it clear that the alternatives I am exploring are entirely unacceptable. Even though we do not seem to be making progress, one or both participants are likely to suggest additional mediation assistance. This is a clear indication to me that they would prefer to avoid the economic and psychological costs of trials. I am always pleased to schedule additional talks.

Patience is a Virtue When People Negotiate By Charles B. Craver


Copyright ©2014 Charles B. Craver
Copyright ©   2014  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  March 2014