The Negotiator Magazine

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After 13 frustrating days of negotiating at Camp David where they all felt until the last moment that their efforts were futile, they reached what they thought was a breakthrough to agreement. Excitedly they flew helicopters to Washington and with massive publicity signed the accord. In the East Room, the normally unemotional Menachem Begin turned to his wife and said, "Mama, we'll go down in the history books tonight." That may be so, but the truth is that many years later, hardly any of the elements of the agreement had gone into effect. Their enthusiasm led each of them to think that they had reached agreement when they really hadn't.

If you are to be the one writing the contract, it's a good idea to keep notes throughout the negotiation and put a check mark in the margin against any point that will be part of the final agreement.

This does two things:

1. It reminds you to include all the points that you wanted.

2. When you write the contract, you may be reluctant to include a point in the agreement unless you can specifically recall the other side agreeing to it. Your notes will give you the confidence to include it even if you don't remember it clearly.

If you have been team negotiating, be sure to have all the other members of your team review the contract before you present it to the other side. You may have overlooked a point that you should have included or you may have misinterpreted a point. It's common for the lead negotiator to let her enthusiasm overwhelm her to a point that she feels that the other side agreed to something when it was less than clear to more independent observers.

I'm not a big believer in having attorneys conduct a negotiation for you because so few of them are good negotiators. They tend to be confrontational negotiators because they're used to threatening the other side into submission, and they are seldom open to creative solutions because their first obligation is to keep you out of trouble, not make you money. Remember that in law school, they are not taught how to make deals, only how to break deals. In our litigious society there isn't much point in making an agreement that won't hold up in court, however, so it's a good idea to have the agreement approved by your attorney before you have it signed. In a complicated agreement what you prepare and have the other side sign may be no more than a letter of intent. Have the attorneys work on it later to make it a legal document. It's better that you devote your energy to reaching agreement.

If you have prepared an agreement that you think the other side may be reluctant to sign, you may be smart to include the expression "Subject to your attorney's approval," to encourage them to sign it.

Once the verbal negotiations are over, get a memorandum of agreement signed as quickly as possible. The longer you give them before they see it in writing, the greater the chances that they'll forget what they agreed to and question what you've prepared.

Also, make sure they understand the agreement. Don't be tempted to have them sign something when you know they're not clear on the implications. If they don't understand and something goes wrong, they will always blame you. They will never accept responsibility.

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Copyright © 2003 Roger Dawson