How to Persuade Clients to Negotiate (and That They Might Enjoy it!)

In 1906, Jack B. Yeats wrote an article for The Guardian describing the Flat Iron Market in Manchester:

“Here you do not stand sourly while a pale-faced short-tempered shopman whirls your purchase into a dexterously twisted screw of pale brown paper and sends your money trundling in a globe along naked wires. No; here before you make a purchase you can slap and thump a thing, and abuse and sneer at it, and the man behind the stall will slap and thump it too, and praise it; and at last you’ll get the price down to near to what he will take and you will give. Then perhaps some old split-the-differ of the market rolls up and makes a bargain between you. Oh, you can enjoy buying in the Flat Iron Market.”

This excerpt highlights what many of those who work in dispute resolution already know – negotiation can be a pleasure, providing an extraordinary sense of achievement, gained from having reached a hard-won conclusion, accepted by all concerned.

However, we all also know that this attitude contrasts starkly with the discomfiture of many of us when confronted with many negotiation environments. But why does negotiation sometimes frighten and discomfort us so much, and how, as dispute resolution professionals, can we work with clients to make negotiation a pleasure?

Unrealistic expectations
All too frequently, parties seek legal advice either because they are scared to engage in negotiation at all, or because they believe negotiation “hasn’t worked”; unlike Jack, they haven’t got what they wanted. The legal route might appeal to an individual as a chance to affirm their own rightness, or it might be the only way of getting the other side to engage with their situation in the first place. Entering the legal system with these sorts of ideas and attitudes results in the individual having unrealistic expectations of what the legal process can offer him or her, and, in some cases, they may hold the belief that, as a result, they no longer have to even consider negotiating.

This leaves legal advisors with multiple challenges in managing client expectations. The most obvious are issues around what a client can expect to achieve through a purely legal route. What are the implications, both legal and personal, of not negotiating? It is unlikely that many clients will initially be aware of the legal…

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by Isabel Phillips

Isabel Phillips is an experienced Mediator and Senior Training Consultant for The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).