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Win-win negotiation skills:
The art of getting what you both want

Janet Ellen Raasch

Janet Ellen Raasch is a writer and ghostwriter who works closely with lawyers and other professional services providers – helping them promote themselves as thought leaders within their target markets through publication of articles and books for print and rich content for the Internet. She can be reached at (303) 399-5041 or

Deciding on a curfew time with your teenager. Choosing which sofa to buy with your spouse. Settling on a vehicle price with a car salesman. Each person engaged in daily life is also engaged in constant rounds of negotiation.

Law-office life presents a similar barrage of challenges. Legal administrators must constantly negotiate with their colleagues – to agree on the appropriate schedule and deadline for a project, to settle on a budget, to mediate a dispute, to acquire employees and set their salaries, and to work with vendors on the cost of needed products and services.

Carp, shark and dolphin

Negotiation is the process by which two parties with different goals try to reach agreement on an optimal course of action.

The most important characteristic of an effective negotiator is flexibility. “When one approach is not working, the good negotiator is able to adapt to the situation and adopt a different approach,” said Peter Stark, a San Diego-based consultant who specializes in negotiation as well as leadership and management development.

“When it comes time to negotiate, you don’t want to be a carp,” said Stark. “A carp sees limited options, does not think he can win, does not like confrontation and focuses on maintaining the status quo. You don’t want to be a shark, either. A shark also sees limited options, but she wants to win at all costs, uses confrontation as a strategy, and focuses all of her energy on the kill – regardless of the long-term cost.

“The best negotiators are dolphins,” said Stark. “Dolphins are flexible in thought and personality; they can change their strategies and tactics depending upon the species with which they are swimming – carp, sharks or other dolphins.

“Dolphins see the world of options as infinite,” said Stark. “They cooperate as long as their counterpart is cooperative. However, they retaliate quickly to retain control when they encounter a shark-like move. When one strategy does not work, dolphins are ready with alternatives. They focus all of their energy on achieving a win/win solution.”

The carp/shark/dolphin metaphor was adapted to the negotiation environment by the speaker from The Strategy of the Dolphin, a business book by Dudley Lynch and Paul Kordis.

Stark discussed negotiation skills at a quarterly core competency session of the Mile High Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators, held June 8 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Denver. Stark is principal of Peter Barron Stark & Associates ( and author of a number of books, including The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need: 101 Ways to Win Every Time, in Every Situation.

Win/win solutions

When parties negotiate, there are a limited number of possible outcomes:

  • Lose/lose, in which neither party achieves his goals;
  • Lose/win or win/lose, in which one party achieves his goals and the other does not;
  • Win/win, in which the goals of both parties are met; and
  • No outcome, in which neither party wins or loses.

Of all the possible outcomes, lose/lose, lose/win (if you are the one who loses) and “no outcome” are the least helpful in achieving your goals. “Sometimes, ‘no outcome’ is the best outcome,” said Stark. “Trust your gut on this one. Some deals are best left undone.”

Win/lose (where you win), may seem desirable at the outset, but your relationship with your counterpart will be damaged – perhaps irreparably. No one likes to lose. The losing party will not feel good about the agreement and will be reluctant to negotiate with you again. Eventually, you will become the loser in this relationship.

“The best outcome in any negotiation is a win/win outcome – where both parties in the negotiation walk way with a positive feeling and the sense that they have accomplished their objectives,” said Stark. “Trust is developed, and both parties will be willing to continue this mutually beneficial relationship.”

To create a win/win atmosphere, keep three things in mind:

“First, do not narrow down your negotiation to one issue,” said Stark. “When you have only one issue, you can have only one winner.” All too often, this single issue is price. Do research and ask questions so that you can bring other issues into the negotiation – things like quality, delivery date, warranty, training, upgrades, color or style, additional purchases, partial or full shipment, shipping charges and so forth.”

“Develop as many issues or negotiable deal points as you can,” said Stark. “When you and your counterpart are stuck on one issue, tossing the same ball up into the air over and over again, juggle these additional deal points into the mix to get things moving.”

Second, realize that your counterpart’s needs and wants are not the same as your needs and wants. “Even ‘a good price’ can mean different things to different parties,” said Stark. If you do not understand this, then the other party’s gain is automatically your loss – which makes it virtually impossible to create a win/win outcome.

“Third, once you understand that your counterpart’s needs and wants are different from your own, do not assume that you know what they are,” said Stark. “In any negotiation, there will be ‘explicit’ needs that are expressed, like price, finance rate or deadline

“However, there will also be ‘implicit’ needs – needs that are not expressed,” said Stark. “These are very powerful and actually drive the outcome of the negotiation. Examples are the desire to be liked or loved; to trust and be trusted; to be respected; to be right; to look good in the boss’ eyes; to be ‘better’ or have authority; to get a good deal; to feel listened to; to be recognized; to appear intelligent; to win; and to have a relationship.”

Be prepared

Much of the work that leads to successful win/win negotiation takes place before the parties actually meet.

“Take the time to determine your own needs, wants and goals before you enter into any negotiation,” said Stark. “Write these down. For example, you might have received an estimate of $50,000 for new carpet for the law office and you need to pay less than that in order to satisfy the managing partner. Ideally, you want to pay $40,000. However, your goal is to get the carpet for $45,000 and a few concessions on installation.”

Your goal is your bottom line, and you must be ready to walk away – generating a “no outcome” outcome – if you cannot get it.

You must also take the time to determine – ahead of time – the needs, wants and goals of your counterpart in the negotiation. “The side with the most and the best information usually achieves the best outcome,” said Stark. “Plus, when you are well-prepared you are confident – and confidence is essential to negotiation.”

One of the best tactics to use in preparing for negotiation is the question. “Open-ended questions work best when you are trying to build a relationship and gain information,” said Stark. “These can be who, what, where, when, why and how questions, and can be used to uncover your counterpart’s explicit and implicit needs.”

Questions are also useful during the negotiation itself. Closed-ended questions – those that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ – should be used when you are trying to gain a concession or confirm a deal point.

“Almost everything that you say in the negotiation process should be in the form of a question,” said Stark. “Strategic, well-timed and respectful questions can be used to gain information, give information, clarify or verify information, check understanding and level of interest, determine behavioral style, gain participation, start someone thinking, bring attention back to the subject, reach agreement, increase reception to your ideas, reduce tension and give positive strokes or build rapport.

Stark presented a selection of effective negotiating strategies and tactics as well as their counter-arguments. “These strategies and tactics can be learned, practiced until they are mastered, and put to work in any situation – personal or professional – that requires negotiation,” said Stark. “Armed with these skills, any law firm administrator can become a dolphin – adaptable enough to achieve win/win results in almost any situation.”