January 2017
Raphael Lapin

Negotiation, Mediation and Litigation-Avoidance Specialists Since 1995

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Dear Clients and Friends,


Are good personal relationships an obstruction to advocating for your needs in a negotiation? I n this December '16 edition of  NE GOTIATION STRATEGIES I explore this question.
For your reading convenience, we also distill this into a brief lessons learned at the end of the column.
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Also see  About Lapin Negotiation Services below for ways in which we can make a high impact and a demonstrable and substantive difference to your organization, negotiations and resolving of disputes.

Wishing all of you and yours a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year! 

Raphael Lapin
In a recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine titled: "How Trump can play nice with Russia without selling out America" (January 6th 2017), Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014) expresses concern over President-elect Trump's desire to foster better relations with Putin. He writes "Better relations should never be the goal of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia or any country in the world. Diplomacy is not a popularity contest".

McFaul's perspective appears to be that better relations could negatively impact negotiations and the protecting of our interests. He seems to think that with better relationships, we are more likely to make deeper concessions in order to maintain the relationship. His perspective makes sense if we see negotiation as an adversarial face-to-face confrontation, haggling over who will extract greater concessions from the other.

And therein lies the problem! A sophisticated negotiator needs to be able to turn a face-to-face confrontation into side-by-side joint problem solving. He needs to be able to separate the people issues from the substantive one's; to treat his counterparts with dignity, respect and fairness, while at the same time being hard, relentless and passionate about his interests; rather than haggling over concessions, he needs to seek creative and innovative ideas that meet the needs of all parties.

In this context, I would respectfully argue with Ambassador McFaul's position and suggest that strong personal relationships create a solid foundation for constructive dialogue, rigorous exploration of needs, interests and concerns, and the fortitude to jointly seek mutually satisfying solutions.

It was precisely a strong personal relationship that allowed President Reagan to achieve so much with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980's.

Below are some ways to build and maintain strong working relationships with your negotiating partners, so that you will achieve optimal, durable and satisfying outcomes.
Reliability is the foundation of trust. If we are consistently reliable even in small things, our counterparts will be more likely to trust us even in things that may not be easily verifiable. If, on the other hand, we are not seen to be reliable, it will be harder for them to trust us. 

Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense in the Kennedy administration, always made a point of arriving at meetings punctually. His reputation for reliability in all things enhanced his credibility in more serious matters - an important asset for a secretary of defense and for us as negotiators too.

Always make sure to respond to issues, concerns, questions and proposals in a timely fashion. Using delay tactics and playing games to mislead the other party only serves to undermine trust and credibility and is not constructive in the long run. Building the other side's confidence in your trustworthiness is unconditionally constructive regardless of how they choose to conduct themselves. It is good for you, the relationship and the outcome.
Often in negotiations we tend to give our own interests more weight and importance than those of our counterpart.  We focus on our own needs and are self-absorbed by them to the total exclusion of the other's.  We assert our positions aggressively without any effort at understanding and acknowledging those of our counterparts. 

If you expect to reconcile your differences with theirs, you must first recognize and acknowledge their interests as legitimate, important to them and worthy of respect, even if initially they appear to threaten your own.

When John Adams was negotiating with Britain for US independence and an end to the revolutionary war in 1786, one of Britain's demands was full compensation for property loss of the loyalists as a result of the war. These were colonial settlers who supported King George lll and fought with the British against the United States army in their battle for independence.  To Adams that request must have sounded preposterous. Why would he reward people who were essentially traitors to the United States cause?!

Being aware of the importance of acknowledging the other side unconditionally, Adams put effort into understanding the British concern. From their perspective they could not be seen as betraying those who are loyal to crown and country. It could potentially send a very wrong message to British subjects.  Once he acknowledged and gave legitimacy to Britain's concern, he was able to resolve their differences by proposing that the individual states (previously the colonies) would be responsible for compensation but not part of the negotiated Paris Peace Treaty between the United States and Great Britain.

In your negotiations, make sure to really understand the perceptions, concerns and needs of the other side, even if they may seem unreasonable at first. Resist the urge to reject them out of hand.  Do this unconditionally, and you will be establishing a strong relationship that will advance stronger and more durable and sustainable outcomes.
Several months ago when travelling from Los Angeles to Denver, all flights were cancelled due to a severe snow storm in Denver.  I had to be in Denver early the next morning for an important client meeting.  The agent at the podium was being attacked by irate passengers who were angry and verbally abusive, as if the bad weather in Denver was somehow her fault.  She was understandably reacting defensively (albeit with professional grace under the pressure) towards the deluge of frustrated passengers but nothing was getting accomplished.

When it was my turn, I said to her: "As I'm watching you, I can't imagine what this sort of situation must be like to deal with, and I am duly impressed with how effectively you seem to be maintaining your composure!"

Her tone immediately changed and she thanked me for appreciating the stress of her situation. Within five minutes, she had me on the first flight out the next morning in a first class seat!
When someone feels appreciated, they will tend to feel more at ease and cooperative. It will allow them to see points they can appreciate about you or your point of view and the relationship will build.

When negotiating, look for opportunities for which you can express sincere appreciation to the other side. It might be about how they are negotiating; their constructive sharing and openness; the merits of their reason and arguments; or solutions and ideas that they might be proposing.

As long as it is genuine and sincere, unconditional appreciation is an important element of relationship integrity that will pave the way for a satisfying negotiation experience resulting in good outcomes.

About1About Lapin Negotiation Services


Lapin Negotiation Services offers training, consulting, advising and executive coaching in negotiation, business diplomacy and dispute resolution services.


Our proprietary and aggressively results oriented services are designed to help your leadership, teams and individuals master the essential negotiation, relationship-building and conflict management skills that increase revenues, decrease the high cost of conflict  and build  strong working relationships .

Our skilled specialists will:
  • Help your organization build a highly effective negotiation competency and culture which translates into increased revenue and strong business relationships.
  • Train and prepare your sales teams for sales presentations
  • Develop high impact, customized learning systems to develop advanced skills and powerful techniques in negotiation, dispute resolution and relationship management.
  • Provide advice, strategy, guidance and representation in live negotiation challenges
  • Facilitate, mediate and advise in dispute resolution
  • Create a culture of collaboration by guiding and training teams and divisions to engage in dialogue, to negotiate and to partner
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Raphael Lapin

Raphael Lapin, a Harvard trained negotiation and communication specialist. He is adjunct professor of law at Whittier School of Law in Southern California and visiting professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Raphael trains and advises Fortune 500 companies and governments around the world and is the author of "Working with Difficult People" (DK Penguin Essential Managers Series)
Working with Difficult People
 Learn more about Raphael Lapin's book, "Working with Difficult People" by clicking on the image above