September 2016
Raphael Lapin

Negotiation, Mediation and Litigation-Avoidance Specialists Since 1995

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

 Easy or Hard Issues First? (The answer might surprise you!)

In multi-issue negotiations (which many are), is it preferable to start  with the simpler issues thereby building a foundation of agreement before dealing with the more difficult issues or not?

Join me in this September '16 edition of  NE GOTIATION STRATEGIES,  as I explore this important process 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.

With Best Wishes 
Raphael Lapin
Easy or Hard Issues First? (The answer might surprise you!)

A U.S based Fortune 500 company that manufactures high-end bio-technological devices was negotiating a joint-venture with a Southeast Asian family-run business that specializes in sales and distribution of lower end medical products in that region. 

The U.S company stood to gain access to key distribution channels in that region while the SE Asian company looked forward to greater profit margins in the high end products and equity in the US company. 

There were several issues to be negotiated including: capitalization; terms and agreements; profit and equity distribution; staffing; decision-making; and conflict resolution systems (some of which were exacerbated by deep cultural values and differences).

The US company approached us for assistance after similar negotiations with an Eastern European company failed several months earlier. In those negotiations, our clients attempted to negotiate the "easier" issues first leaving the tougher issues for later. As expected, they were able to reach resolution on the early issues quite painlessly. They reached a catastrophic impasse however, over the last couple of very tough issues and the joint-venture was never consummated. Our clients hoped for a better outcome in negotiating with the new SE Asian potential partner.

This raises a much debated question in navigating multi-issue negotiations: Is it preferable to start with the simpler issues thereby building a foundation of agreement before dealing with the more difficult issues. Then again, perhaps it is better rather to deal with the more difficult issues earlier while there is still fresh and optimistic energy at the negotiation table.

We believe that neither is good because difficult issues are difficult regardless of the sequence, and without disciplined technique and process, will likely lead to impasse. Consequently we advised our clients in an altogether different approach.

Rather than to attempt to reach agreement on each issue independently, we advised our client to first explore two or three high-level possible options for each of the issues before committing to any. After generating several possible ideas for each issue, we then advised them to choose those which they all felt had most potential and to further distill, develop and refine those (still without commitment). 

Finally we advised our clients to engage in a process of trading the various options offering their counterparts those that were low cost to them and of high value to the other side and vice versa. We instructed our clients not to commit to anything until there was an elegant, integrated and comprehensive solution package on the table that addressed all the issues. They were able to reach a sound agreement on all the issues and a successful joint venture was born.

By adopting this approach of not committing to anything until you are prepared to commit to everything in a multi-issue negotiation, you avert the entire question of whether to tackle the hard issues first or the easy ones. You are in effect, dealing with them all simultaneously. 
  • Make sure to have an appropriate process and follow it meticulously
  • Exploring, developing and refining possible options before committing is an important part of the negotiation process
  • Trade options that are of high value to you and lower cost to them for options that are of high value to them and lower cost to you
  • Do not commit to anything until there is an integrated solution package that collectively addresses all issues to your satisfaction (and with which the other side could live with too)

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