Negotiations and mediations can be difficult when one or both parties want to play things “close to the vest” like a poker player and not open up about what they truly want and need (and why) in order to reach a resolution. On the other hand the other party may appear to be very demonstrative, emotional, irrational or angry covering up what’s really going on inside. Either way what may appear to you as the person’s shallow desires or demands may actually have deep roots.

Like an iceberg what you perceive may be a small fraction of what the other person is all about. Don’t sink your client’s chances of a positive settlement by slamming into the other party’s unseen motives, constraints or lack of information. You need to try to discover and address the underlying interests driving the party’s emotion or lack thereof.

Negotiations and Mediations

It is obvious one party may want money and/or certain actions to be taken in order to agree to a settlement but there are many things a person may need that remain unseen and unspoken, hidden like the underside of an iceberg. To increase the chances of a successful negotiation you need to understand and know how to gain access to and use the visible and invisible parts of the iceberg. A workable settlement will be harder to reach if you can’t meet the other parties’ unspoken needs.

There can be many hidden issues in every negotiation, including the desire to have:

  • Easier lives;
  • A reputation of being competent;
  • Peace of mind;
  • The opportunity to be heard and understood; and
  • Freedom of choice.

These desires below the water line are powerful. A key to reaching an agreement may be to understand that to persuade the other party he or she must be paid well, not necessarily in dollars but in satisfaction. When negotiating or being involved in a mediation think about the other party’s obvious motivations and inquire diplomatically about the other motivations that are there but can’t be easily seen.

Depending on how much good will exists between the parties it may be difficult to see what’s below the surface of the other party. You can use small talk to try to break the ice and give yourselves a chance to humanize each other so you’re not just caricatures of types of people you may imagine. Try to get more background information on the other party through conversation. Prior to negotiation or mediation do some searches on social media. It may provide a steady flow of personal information giving you a more complete picture of the person.

Important questions to ask are not only what the other party is willing to offer or accept, but why that’s what’s on the table. What are the objectives and goals of the other party? A party may want a certain amount of money. What will it be used for? Might there be a way to accomplish the person’s goal at a lower cost to your client? Some acknowledgment that the person was poorly treated may move the negotiations along at a small price to your client.

Whatever the situation your client is best served when steering the ship through a negotiation or mediation you not only see the top of the iceberg but what’s below it so the ship doesn’t start taking on water.

Steve Mehta is a professional full-time mediator who specializes in mediating complex and emotional cases. A leading Los Angeles mediator, Mr. Mehta has been repeatedly selected as a Super Lawyer in mediation and is highly regarded by both sides to mediation. To schedule mediations, please visit SteveMehta.com