To negotiate is to discuss a problem in order to try and reach an agreement. Negotiation can be the simplest and cheapest method of dispute resolution.
Negotiation can be done on your own, with the help of a lawyer, or with the help of another support person.
Negotiation can be an ongoing process. You can try to negotiate a settlement to a dispute at any time.
Negotiation can have serious consequences. Negotiation can lead to legally binding contracts. It is therefore important to be prepared.
One way to be prepared is to talk to a professional before you enter negotiations. A lawyer can give you advice on the likely outcome of a dispute if it went to trial. Lawyers are also experienced negotiators, and can give you tips on strategies. For more information on getting legal help, see Get Help.
Conflict coaches are another resource to consider. A conflict coach is a professional trained in dealing with difficult situations. They may help you better understand the conflict, develop strategies to handle the conflict, prepare you for difficult conversations, and increase your confidence.
When entering into negotiations, make clear that the discussions are “Without Prejudice”. This means that what is said in a negotiation cannot subsequently be used against you in Court to hurt your case. This encourages parties to discuss the matter freely, including even possibly acknowledging weaknesses in their position.
Some key negotiation principles include:
- Recognize the possibilities: Think about what might happen if you do not settle the dispute. What would be the best result if you go to Court? What would be the worst result if you go to Court? Often it is possible that if the matter goes to court that both complete success and complete failure are possibilities. Be realistic about how bad the dispute could become if a solution is not found
- Think of your options and interests: Before settling on an agreement try to think creatively about as many possible solutions to the problem as possible. You may want to seek professional advice, or talk to trusted friends or family about the dispute and possible solutions
- Focus on the problem, not the people: Separate the people from the problem. Be critical of the subject matter of the dispute, not of the person with whom you are in a dispute. Personal attacks rarely lead to agreement
- Look for “win-wins”: Sometimes people in a dispute can both get what they want. Engaging in “interest based negotiations” means to look for solutions where both sides can have their “interests” addressed – that is, there can be a “win-win”. This is often a more effective approach than “position based” negotiations, where a gain for one is seen as a loss for the other side. For example, if there is one lemon that two people want, a “position based” approach would say that if one person gets the lemon, the other will be disappointed. However, an “interest based” approach would ask why each wanted the lemon. If one wanted the rind for a zest and the other wanted the juice, there could be a “win-win”
There are many more resources that may provide helpful tips with negotiation practice. The libraries have many books on negotiation, and information about negotiation strategies may be found on the internet.
The Dispute Resolution Reference Guide from the Department of Justice Canada is a helpful resource on negotiation and dispute resolution.
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