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Sometimes walking away is OK.

June 29, 2011

In Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin Books, 2d ed. 1991), authors Fisher and Ury write at length about utilizing objective criteria and principled negotiation to arrive at a settlement figure.

In a recent mediation session between two parties in conflict over the ownership of a particular item, an appraisal of the item ultimately was introduced into the process to help the parties anchor their offers and counteroffers by such objective criteria.  However, the party who, in exchange for dollars would relinquish his claim of ownership of the item (the “seller”), explained that, if at all times he could get that price, he would only settle with the other disputant if he could get a better price from him.  The last demand remained well above the appraisal amount.

The party who wanted the item (the “buyer”) first responded with the suggestion that he would just “borrow” the item for a specified time, but that was not palatable to the other disputant (the “seller”) who was looking for cash at the end of the day.  The “buyer” felt that he was then was faced with the choice of “giving in” to an “unreasonable” demand or walking away.  The “buyer” in this example chose the latter and ended the negotiation session (for now), although the parties may still resume their negotiation another time inasmuch as both sides probably want to conclude the “transaction” and settle their case.

Perhaps after reflection, the “seller” will find a reason or a way to reduce his demand to the “buyer” in consonance with the objective criteria introduced into the bargaining session or otherwise.  Or the “buyer” will need to make a decision between the choices eloquently described by Fisher and Ury (ibid., p 92):

“If there is no give in their position and you find no principled basis for accepting it, you should assess what you might gain by accepting their unjustified position rather than going to your best alternative.  You should weigh that substantive benefit against the benefit to your reputation as a principled negotiator that could come from walking away.”

After reflection, some choose the former, some the latter.  Either will be appropriate as the needs and interests of the “buyer” here are valued by the “buyer.”


From → Mediation

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