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Negotiation Tip # 5: Don't Answer

Negotiation Tip # 5: Don't Answer
Pat Dickson - Wed May 30, 2012 @ 06:40AM
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Yes, I immediately admit what you may now be identifying as my overuse of the Silence, Listen, or the "You have two ears and one mouth for a reason" concept. Doing or saying nothing appears to be a core principle in at least 80% of my prior Negotiation Tips. I admit. I have been caught! At the same time, I insist that this Negotiation Tip # 5, DON'T ANSWER, has invaluable practical application worthy of serious consideration. Done right, Don't Answer will save you a lot of time and money.

I'll give an example of how I saved one of my clients $10,000 in attorney's fees (and who knows how much time?) by simply ignoring a problem. In fact, we did more than ignore the problem. We threw it in the trash:

CLUNK! Went the big patent infringement demand letter, right to the bottom of the trash can.

Brenda, a friend, client and CEO of a small software company leapt from her chair. She threw her hands up in the air.

"What did you just do?"

"I threw it in the trash."

"We could get sued! How can you do such a thing? I thought you were a lawyer, not a cowboy?"

"It was just a letter, and with all the exhibits and diagrams it must have weighed three pounds."

"But we have to answer! It is a legal document!"

"No it isn't."

"It came from a law firm! It IS a legal document!"

"I'm sorry Brenda, but legal documents don't come from law firms. They come from the court. If that waste of trees were a subpoena, or if there were some other kind of legally binding court order in it, we wouldn't have thrown it in the trash."

"But the letter says we have to respond!"

"We've already given our response. Didn't you hear the 'CLUNK!'?"

"I still don't get it. Look, I did my homework on this matter. The law firm that sent that letter you just threw in the trash is representing a company with several patents, and our website infringes at least twenty of them. Simple things, like our links, our text boxes and the way we label our images. This could be disastrous! I just talked to my friend Bill, and he's a CIO at XYZ Soft. His company got the exact same letter from the same law firm. They've already spent $10,000 in attorneys' fees just answering this letter! You didn't even read it!"

"You told me all I need to know. Let's just save the $10,000."

Arms akimbo in her usual fashion, Brenda stood there giving me her "please explain" look.

"First, we don't have to answer. Like I said, this is just a law firm's nasty demand letter. We believe it has no basis. They are fishing for suckers. Answer them and they'll try to squeeze us for more. Don't answer, and they'll just try to hook another fish. Just the fact Bill received the same letter tells me these jokers are simply spamming everyone in the business. Let's not fall for this scam. Just on the face of the letter, to threaten to sue us for using some HTML basics is like trying to lay claim to someone's right to breathe the air. On its face, were it a real threat, this claim sounds like something that could shut down the Internet. It just isn't going to happen."

"Go on. Maybe you are making some sense..."

"Second, if I'm wrong, there is no downside. We'll be served a real legal document, or a complaint, and then we'll answer it. And I'm sure it won't cost us $10,000 to do so. Plus, we'll just find out who else is being sued for the same thing by these scammers. We'll join in the action. In cases like these, you usually find a much bigger defendant in the same position we're in, and all we have to do is join all their motions. It won't cost a lot. But all of this is a stretch. If we do nothing - if we Don't Answer - my wager is this problem will go away. We'll never see it again and can spend our $10,000 and our valuable time elsewhere."

"You better be right!" threatened Brenda.

And we never heard another peep. Brenda saved $10,000. To this day she teases her friend Bill about how he wasted $10,000 on a scam.

Negotiation Tip # 6

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