Sadly, too many participants enter a negotiation without having clearly defined the optimal goal they are aspiring to achieve in that negotiation.
In my routine as a mediator, I have over and again reflected on what is best practice in mediation. Make no mistakes; I am not unfamiliar with what authors and my teachers say best practices are. What I have struggled with is how to harness these nuggets and come up with what works best in practice. Tall dream, you say? Perhaps yes, because mediation is a private and confidential process and you have no opportunity outside of your certification training period to sit in on another’s mediation to learn how they manage their cases. Worse still there are no practice journals in the form of law reports to guide you on precedents; that is, how some other mediators had mediated cases that are similar to any that you have at hand.
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So after your credentialing as a mediator, you are perhaps on your own! That was what I thought it was until I listened to a mediate .com video of an interview with the late Professor Frank Sander, father of the Multi-Door Courthouse system. It was in that video the erudite Professor stated the very strong similarity between mediation and negotiation. He hinted for instance that the seminal book GETTING TO YES authored by the trio of Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Paton was originally to have been published as a mediation manual. The book however had to be rebranded a Negotiation book because there were more negotiators in practice. It was a marketing decision. The erudite Professor Sander also noted for instance that about ninety percent of whatever is written about mediation applies to negotiation; thus making mediation after all a specialized form of negotiation.
Ever since I got that hint, I have immersed myself more into the study of negotiation materials, knowing as I now do, that mediation is no more than negotiation tweaked for the purposes of third party facilitation. There are yet other things that raise my curiosity about these branches of study. Why, for instance, do negotiators get so handsomely paid and mediators are not? Why do corporations scout for smart negotiators while hundreds of mediators literarily roam the streets with no jobs? Can this be the result of mediation marketing which would appear to sell mediation practice and procedure less than a sophisticated skill? Doesn’t it appear that when we say disputants can appear in mediation without representation such as lawyers or other consulting experts, all that is being communicated is that the exercise lacks skill or particular knowledge? Nothing, respectfully, can be further from reality because the body of literature in negotiation would suggest otherwise. If you undertake quality negotiation training, you will literally beat yourself for all you have ever considered as negotiation or mediation. You will come to discover that mediation never really meant sheepish submission to proposals that did not meet your ultimate goals. That will be the point at which you will come to the realization that making the first proposal at mediation may after all be a tactical move.
Before getting to the mediation table, the discerning participant should have made adequate preparations, with his desired outcome firmly set as his mediation goal. He should know ahead of the mediation session what minimum offer he would accept. Put differently, he should know at what point to call off the mediation because it is not meeting his objective. To do this successfully however, the mediation participant must set an opening demand that exceeds his expectation. Care must be taken that the demand level is not unreasonable so that the party does not lose integrity. He should also know in advance what alternatives exist for him to achieve his objective if he calls off the mediation or the mediation ultimately fails. Sadly, too many participants enter a negotiation without having clearly defined the optimal goal they are aspiring to achieve in that negotiation. Sometime, they aspire to a goal that is far too low. This inevitably results in an outcome that is way beneath what could have been achieved, as their low target is very likely to be eroded by the concessions they will need to make to keep the negotiation going.
If you are the party demanding a payment, it might be ill advised, as some of us do, to allow the party that is paying the bill to make the opening offer. Whenever he or she does so, he probably may begin with an offer that might not meet your operating cost. It thus becomes a negotiation that has failed from the outset. Take the lead, make the opening offer so that he struggles with bringing you to what he considers more realistic in the circumstance. Your concession at each given point then keeps you comfortable to give the negotiation or mediation a wide ambit within which to oscillate.
In all, negotiation skills are invaluable to life and living both for the individual and the corporate. Discerning organizations which consistently consult stakeholders on their every policy move are negotiation strategists. Consultations open way for negotiations and negotiations promotes consensus building.