I'm sure that we have all seen those legal dramas on television and in the movies where the attorney negotiating a settlement is engaged in theatrics - red-faced and impassioned, he demands justice and a fair settlement. He yells at the other attorney, "Your client must meet our demands or he will be destroyed at trial. We will show no mercy." He pounds his fist on the table and tells his own client, "Let's go. We are done here", and the two storm out of the room. Moments later, the opposing attorney calls the attorney who stormed out of the negotiation and tells him that the client will agree to the demands." The audience is left to believe that the best way to negotiate is with theatrics and a great deal of emotion. However, in real life, overly emotional people rarely succeed when negotiating a contract, settlement or other legal matter.
Why Is Emotion Bad?
First, let me clarify that some showing of emotion can be a good thing. It lets the other side know that you care about the issue you are negotiating. Emotions become a problem when they cloud your judgment or make you look like a crazed lunatic.
Negotiations are like a poker game. You don't want to show your hand through the look on your face. When you display too much emotion, the other side (especially if the other party is represented by an attorney), can use your emotion against you. When lawyers come up against an overly emotional pro se (someone representing themselves without an attorney) party, they often feel like they have the upper hand. They know that they can get you upset easily and throw you off your game.
For example, let's say that you are trying to negotiate a settlement in a case you filed against someone for breach of contract. The reason that the other side wants to settle is that they believe that you might have a good case and they don't want to take a chance at trial. However, when they meet you face-to-face, you are super emotional. You are angry with them because you consider their initial offer insulting. So, you start ranting and yelling. Your thoughts become scattered, and you can't seem to make the points you had rehearsed the night before. Now the other attorney sees a weakness. He explains to his client that he may actually win at trial or pay less than if he settles because a jury will not take you seriously. The lawyer knows that he can get you flustered at trial and you will not be able to be effective when arguing your case.
The above scenario is only a brief example of how excessive emotions become a poker "tell" and can negatively affect your legal matter. In general showing extreme emotions (1) can make you appear irrational; (2) can distract you from making your points; (3) can let the other side "see your cards"; (4) can prevent you from making good decisions; and (5) can cause you to become frustrated and angry.
How Should You Approach a Negotiation?
Here are a few simple tips to help you succeed during your next negotiation. Keep in mind, these suggestions pertain to emotions and are not a comprehensive guide to negotiating. General negotiation tips can be found in our other articles, posts, podcasts, and videos.
Know Your Desired Outcome
First, know your desired outcome. You need to know what you want out of the discussion. Do you want the other side to change the salary terms of a proposed employment contract? Do you want the plaintiff to accept a lower amount of money from you? Before you start negotiating you need to know what you want.
Rely on Facts, Not Emotion
Next, you have to force yourself to deal with the facts and to subdue any emotional reactions. If the facts are that you don't believe that the salary offered is fair for the amount of work that you will need to put into a job or project, explain the supporting facts. Explain why you believe the amount of time and effort necessary commands more money. Show some statistics of what other people in the position earn or provide a breakdown of the time that you will need to spend on the project.
Take a Break
If you find yourself getting angry, frustrated, or upset, simply take a break until you can get yourself under control. If you are at a mediation or settlement conference ask if you could take a bathroom break. If you are dealing with an attorney on the phone, simply tell them that you need to call them back. The key is for you to maintain control over your emotions.
Remove the Personal Element
You need to remove the personal element from your negotiations. Ideas of fairness and injustice have little place when you are negotiating. As difficult as it may be, you need to pretend that you are negotiating on behalf of someone else.
If possible, you should have an attorney represent you in negotiations. Generally speaking, you will achieve a better result. However, hiring an attorney is not always possible. In situations where you will be handling your own negotiations, make sure that you control your emotions. You are free to breakdown after the negotiations have concluded.
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