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Negotiation Tip # 3: Make Friends

Negotiation Tip # 3: Make Friends
Pat Dickson - Thu May 24, 2012 @ 12:39PM
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If you've just been sued, have received a very nasty demand letter, or have otherwise been informed you are in trouble, your first impulse is to see the demanding party, or person, as an enemy. You want to call him right up and read him the riot act, or to use words I cannot mention in this article. You are correct he is the enemy, but only in one way. In all other ways, he is not your enemy.

He is going to become your friend. You are going to offer your friendship and respect, and if he returns the same, you'll likely create a mutually beneficial relationship from what could have otherwise become a catastrophe. If he won't capitulate to friendship, then you can do it your way. Have an all-out protracted war if you want. So, let's first talk about the one way in which your opponent will always be your enemy, and then we'll talk about winning his friendship. 

Your opponent is always your enemy to the extent you give him anything he can use to hurt you. Make no admissions and don't offer him anything until you are far into the negotiation process. Until you know him inside and out, have discovered whether you can win his friendship, or are otherwise ready to make a firm settlement offer, admit nothing. Offer nothing. You must assume that if you give your opponent a sword, he will stab you with it. If you tell him a military secret, he will bomb you with his stealth bombers. If you tell him a secret about your love life, it will end up in Cosmopolitan magazine. 

Otherwise, in all other cases, your opponent is your friend. Treat him as a friend until he refuses to surrender to amicability. How do you do this? How do you get started, and how do you initiate friendly contact? I have three suggestions.

1. Learn about your new friend: Who is after you? Find his name on the nasty demand letter and look this guy up. I often find my enemies on Facebook or LinkedIn. I find them in the management bios on their company web sites, usually in the About Us section. Sometimes I call around and see if I can find anyone who knows my enemy. What is he like? Does he have a family? Does he like to swim, bike or hike? Has he written any articles?

One time I had an opponent we will call "Tom." Today Tom is my friend and a hiking buddy. He's a lawyer that once signed a demand letter, on behalf of his client, and it ended up on my desk. When I did my research about Tom, I discovered he liked to hike. This fact was set forth in his bio on his law firm's website. In his bio I also discovered he'd written an article about Tort Reform. I looked up the article and read it. I found it peculiar Tom was in favor of Tort caps, though it appeared most of his law firm's business involved personal injury litigation.

2. Call and offer an invitation: I called Tom. I introduced myself. He introduced himself. I said I'd received his demand letter. I was going to be handling the matter on my client's behalf. Tom tried to immediately get into the details. I politely interrupted him and said I was sorry, but I could not discuss the matter. I was in a hurry. Tomorrow I had time. I asked if he had a favorite place to eat lunch near his office? Could I buy him lunch tomorrow? We'd discuss everything then. He said that sounded like a good idea, told me 1:00, and gave me the name of his favorite sandwich shop, just down the street from his office.

3. Make friends: Tom and I met, shook hands, and before he could get into any of the details of his client's demands, I had him talking about his article, and all about Tort Reform. I challenged him on why he supported Tort caps, though he was mostly in the PI business. He made sense of it all by explaining that the caps, along with a few changes to the personal injury rules, would actually help his business. It would also reduce the costs of litigation to all parties involved. Essentially a quicker turnaround on cases would increase the number of cases he could take, though the average settlement value of each would go down.

Then, halfway through our sandwiches, we got into Tom's favorite pasttime, hiking. His big gripe was his wife hated hiking and only wore high heels. She refused to step off a concrete sidewalk into any dirt. Next thing you know, I had a new hiking buddy. While on one of our excursions into nature, Tom's client's demands were satisfied. We never went to court and we each billied our clients only 3 hours for what could have been a $1m+ lawsuit. In just three hours, and a few cell phone calls to our clients, we worked out a deal.

My client and his client would renegotiate the contract in place. We'd give a sizeable volume discount and agree to cover a number of warranties claims we'd previously denied. Tom's client would guarantee my client a 50% increase in work orders over the next three years.

Negotiation Tip # 4

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