Negotiating business contracts is as much an art as it is a science. It requires thinking strategically, figuratively putting yourself into the shoes of the other party, and even keeping your human emotions in check. But what happens when you hit a brick wall with the other side and the deal goes sideways? Here are a few suggestions for getting your deal back on track when you reach an impasse:
- Ask questions instead of drawing hard lines. If you reach an impasse on any issue, ask lots of questions. It’s amazing how much you learn when you ask questions. Think about this from a personal perspective: How often have you assumed that your partner/ spouse/ friend undoubtedly was thinking one thing when…..much to your surprise you find….. they were thinking something completely different? . . If the other side says “No” or “We don’t agree”, always ask them why. Questions such as “Why is this a problem?”, “Would you give me an example of your concern?” and the like often have the effect of bringing to the forefront, the frequently under discussed concerns of the other side
- Consider your style. Some negotiators have success with the ‘just folks’ act asking the other party to explain everything, by mentioning how they graduated with an English major, or can barely add numbers above three figures. Be cautious however, this type of act can be transparent. My advice is to be yourself during negotiations. If you’re not a forceful personality, don’t pretend to be so. If you need to take your time responding to a question, take that time. Negotiating means obtaining information about the other side’s wants and concerns. And voicing your needs and concerns. Every one of us has our own unique style of eliciting this information and negotiating a deal with the other side.
- Change it up. If you have been negotiating over the phone, consider meeting via video conference or in person. If you have been meeting in a conference room setting, consider meeting over lunch, or taking a walk outside while you talk. Changing the venue, especially moving to neutral territory, can often completely shift the dynamics of the negotiation, and break up the log jam.
- Don’t take ‘best and final’ at face value. If you have the time, and can hold out, it is often strategic to reject even what the other side calls their ‘best and final offer’—if this were truly the case, they would not still be at the negotiation table.
- Consider walking away. Letting a deal go is never easy, especially if your job is to negotiate contracts on behalf of your company. You might be under pressure to meet sales goals, have other departments relying on you getting the deal done, or be under specific orders from supervisors or company owners to ink the deal. However, sometimes walking away can be the most strategic thing you do. A break in the negotiations can often be the best thing to happen to both parties. Many a contract has died and come back after a break, change in personnel or shift in management direction with either party. It is also important to keep in mind that ultimately if a potential vendor, supplier or customer cannot deliver the goods and services at the right price, or is unreasonable during negotiations, perhaps the contract with this particular company is not worth the time, money, and hassles.
If you have questions about negotiating agreements for your business, attorney Leslie S. Marell can help. Leslie has more than 25 years of experience as in-house counsel and as a legal adviser working with businesses, business people, and business contracts, in the technology, manufacturing, software, and medical device industries. She understands the real-world practicalities of what it takes to draft, review, and negotiate corporate contracts, and has presented her dynamic seminars to Fortune 500 companies and small to mid-sized businesses across the country. Leslie specializes in helping contract analysts, project managers, and department leaders work better with their own internal legal departments and outside counsel. To learn more about Leslie’s seminars, or get expert advice on contracting matters, contact Leslie at (310) 372-8663, or visit her online.