3 Steps to Take After an Unsuccessful Negotiation

overlay of two hands shaking over signed contractOver lunch last month, a friend and fellow attorney was obsessing over a recent negotiation that hadn’t gone well.  I watched his meal get cold as he shared the cringe-worthy story.

His client was buying out his partner’s shares in their company, and the negotiations had been smooth sailing in the weeks leading up to the closing.  The business breakup was amicable, my friend had dealt with opposing counsel on a prior matter, and the agreements had been drafted without too much pushback.  At the closing table, however, all hell suddenly broke loose.  Seemingly overnight, his client had decided that he wasn’t getting such a good deal after all.  He challenged almost everything and made demands that he had never raised previously.  As my friend advocated for his client’s new position, he felt that he lost credibility with the other attorney, and while his client was busy yelling at everyone, my friend began to seriously doubt himself.  How could he have misread his client so badly?

The deal eventually closed somewhere in the middle of what had initially been contemplated and what the client ultimately wanted.  But my friend still had a bad taste in his mouth weeks later.  Here, the advice I gave him:

  • Relax… One lackluster negotiation (or more) doesn’t mean your career is over or that you’re a terrible negotiator. Unfortunately, no matter how well you may prepare for a negotiation, some negotiations just won’t go your way.  Try to put things in perspective and realize that one unsuccessful negotiation doesn’t define your entire career.
  • …but do figure out what happened… I am not a fan of complaining.  Instead, when a negotiation turns sour, analyze the experience and figure out why things turned out as they did.  Were you unprepared?  Did you spend enough time actively listening to your client and the other side?  Did you let your expectations cloud your judgment?  Even if you believe the bad outcome was someone else’s doing, there’s always something that you can focus on improving for the next negotiation.
  • …and focus on training. I firmly believe that good negotiators are made, not born, and that everyone can use a periodic refresher on how to negotiate effectively.  I recently attended a negotiation workshop at Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation and picked up so many new strategies, even though I consider myself an experienced negotiator and negotiate every day.  There’s always something to learn.  Use this disappointing negotiation as an opportunity to identify where you should focus your training.  Training will always pay off.

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