November 2016
Raphael Lapin

Negotiation, Mediation and Litigation-Avoidance Specialists Since 1995

10940 WILSHIRE BOULEVARD, Suite 1600
Tel: 888-964-8884
Dear Clients and Friends,


We have all been in meetings where blame and fingerpointing obstructs productive dialogue and resolution.  Join me in this November '16 edition of  NE GOTIATION STRATEGIES as I share some of ideas with you about how to turn these conversations around effectively.
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.

With Best Wishes 
Raphael Lapin
A major contract was awarded to two large defense contractors who were to work jointly on the project. Each contractor was to design and build different components of the specified system. These components ultimately had to achieve perfect compatibility and work as an orchestrated whole. This required intensive collaboration and communication between the two contractors to ensure an operational and functional system.
Identifying the Challenge

The project appeared to be going well until the final stages when testing began. It soon became dismally clear that there was a flaw in the compatibility design that would require significant redesign and engineering. This would set the project back months if not years and at significant cost. A bitter dispute broke out between the two corporations as to who was at fault. Each asserted blame on the other with equally believable arguments while at the same time neither would accept responsibility.

It was decided that rather than to go to arbitration, the parties would first attempt to negotiate a resolution to the problem. After a frustrating day of negotiations during which the parties were engaged in a barrage of blame and counter-blame, we were retained to mediate the dispute.

We sat in on the next round and observed while once again the discussion spiraled into a cycle of attack and counter attack, with emotions flaring uncontrollably. Our problem was how to guide these negotiations past blame towards constructive dialogue and a satisfactory resolution.
Finding the Solution

We first needed a process to allow the parties to give vent to their feelings constructively before any useful dialogue could occur. A ground rule regulating one party speaking at a time was proposed and agreed to by all. A further agreed upon ground rule was that any party presenting their point-of-view, could only do so after demonstrating understanding of the previous speaker (without necessarily agreeing). This would be accomplished by the party wishing to respond, first to paraphrase their understanding of the previous speaker's words and to obtain confirmation for accuracy of that understanding, before proceeding.

As soon as we introduced some process, the discussion became efficient and productive. Although they did not agree with each other, at least they listened and acknowledged. This fostered an environment of mutual, albeit modest respect, and the volatility was significantly reduced. 

I was then able to effectively redirect the discussion by framing each side's blaming of the other, as a perception as opposed to fact. I said: "As I understand it, there seems to be two very different perceptions in this room as to culpability and as I am listening I can understand how each of you could see it that way. Perhaps having heard and understood these perceptions, better use of our time now would be to focus on what's to be done as we move forward. Is that something you are all willing to do?"  

After obtaining their consent we were then able to facilitate some good dialogue and a very productive problem solving session. They agreed to establish a joint task force to explore alternative design and value engineering options; to share in costs proportionate to their respective percentage share of the contract; and to craft better collaboration and communication systems moving forward. 

As an added bonus, the working relationship between the two companies became even stronger than before, and they again won another joint award a year later!

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