WHAT MAKES A GREAT NEGOTIATOR

September 20, 2012

I have taught Legal Negotiation classes for thirty-five years. My students study the negotiation process and engage in a series of negotiation exercises. The first several are for practice, while the results of the final five or six affect their course grades. They thus work on them seriously. I have worked to determine the traits possessed by proficient negotiators. Do better students achieve greater bargaining success? I have found no correlation between student GPAs and their negotiation results. I have been working with Dr. Allison Abbe, a psychologist, comparing negotiation results with student emotional intelligence scores. We have found no correlations.

Are there any differences based upon gender, race, or national origin? In a series of empirical studies, I have found no differences in the results by gender, race, or national origin.

What factors do affect negotiator performance? I have found several. The first is thorough preparation to enable bargainers to completely understand what they have to negotiate. The second concerns their aspiration levels. Persons who want better results are more likely to obtain them than cohorts with more modest goals. Their objectives must be rational, however, since unrealistic goals lead to non-settlements or rapid movement toward bottom lines. The third factor pertains to negotiator confidence. The most successful negotiators develop such confidence in their own positions that they undermine the confidence of less prepared opponents. The fourth factor concerns the ability of adept negotiators to place themselves in the shoes of their adversaries to enable them to understand how much those parties need to achieve accords.

In real life, lawyers are never sure how well they have done. If they have established realistic, yet elevated aspirations, they will often come up a little short. This is usually a sign of negotiation success. Individuals who obtain everything they want have usually not done very well. They set minimal expectations and got what they wanted. Persons who always get what they want, should begin to raise their expectations until they begin to come up short.