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Winning the Zero Sum Game

Value-Added Negotiating

Many negotiators approach resolution as a zero sum game. Each side’s gain or loss is exactly equal to the other party’s gain or loss. Viewing the resources available as limited can obstruct getting to settlement.
 
Particularly when one or more parties have hit their dollar authority limit, adding non-monetary benefits to the discussion creates a larger number of benefits to divide. Some people call this “enlarging the pie.”

When there are more issues to discuss, parties can “log roll,” i.e., swap benefits across a number of issues, not just fixate on more or fewer dollars.

Different kinds of cases call for different solutions. Unique facts can inspire creativity. Here are some tried-and-true ways to add value.

Resignation
In workers compensation and wrongful termination cases, a resignation can add value. It clarifies the parties’ status and provides finality. Double-check to make sure you do not run afoul of statutory restrictions before raising this issue.

Respect 
In the right case, an apology can move negotiation forward.

Some claimants feel no one is listening. Perceived disrespect leads to resentment which prevents reasonable negotiation. All participants should make sure to show respect for the opponent’s position. One way to do this is by scheduling a mediation where everyone gets a chance to have their say.

Payments
In appropriate cases, you may be able to negotiate to characterize money as non-taxable. If some or all of the settlement can be considered payment for a physical injury or restitution for a loss such as property damage, the net benefit to the payee is greater.

Settlements usually call for a single lump-sum payment. But a different arrangement may be better for all parties. A classic way to do this is through a structured settlement. A structured settlement can provide more money for a claimant without increasing the cost to the payor. Other benefits might include Medicare Set-Aside compliance and professional investment management.

Sometimes, a defendant requests a payment plan. Even the largest defendant may need to spread a settlement over two budget years. When parties agree to a payment plan, a properly worded settlement agreement must spell out each party’s rights, obligations, and remedies.

Confidentiality 
Protection against damage to reputation can be a valuable bargaining chip whether the party is an individual, a corporation, or a government entity. Confidentiality clauses have appeared routinely in personal injury settlement agreements for decades. Defendants and their insurers don’t want to set a benchmark for future plaintiffs. Note: some jurisdictions have prohibited non-disclosure clauses in sexual harassment settlements.

Victory!
Victorious negotiators are those who walk away with a settlement. To get there, discard the zero sum approach. Find ways to add value instead

FOBO Paralysis

Most of us have seen, and maybe used, the acronym FOMO. It means Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is the fear of making the wrong decision about how to spend your time, particularly after you’ve seen internet stories about others doing better. 

Negotiation FOBO
The related condition in negotiation is FOBO, Fear Of Better Options. Fear that there may be a better option prevents negotiators from choosing any option. Seeing reports of great results in other cases, unlikely to be identical, contributes to the situation.

Some people are “maximizers”; they think they must have the perfect resolution. So they need to consider every single option. The trouble is, too many options leads to indecision. Maximizers include the attorneys who want to pursue every avenue of inquiry regardless of the expense in relation to the likely effect on evaluation of the claim.

Happier, more successful people are “satisficers”; they know how to recognize an acceptable deal and move on. Satificers aren’t pushovers. They do their homework.  In mediation, they’re the people who have evaluated the claim based on historic data, expert reports, and their own experience. They present cogent, coherent arguments in their mediation brief. They have considered the downside of walking away from a deal though they might consider it barely acceptable.

To avoid FOBO, negotiators need to prioritize their needs and wants. For most mediation participants, the highest priority is closing the claim with an acceptable outcome. Continuing to litigate means months or years of additional expense and stress. Well-prepared negotiators know the status of the case today and realize that things could get worse in the future.

A Mediation Story

The claim was decades old; indemnity was supposedly fully paid. The carrier hadn’t paid a medical bill in years. The applicant had dismissed her attorney, but continued to pursue the claim.

The carrier wanted the claim off the books, so they called me. Without prompting, the adjuster disclosed his authority limit to me in an email.

The applicant, the carrier’s hearing rep, and I met for mediation.

While there was no question the applicant was disabled, the dispute was whether the disability was industrial. Thankfully, the applicant had a very good alternate form of medical insurance which had been providing and continued to provide full coverage.

I spent time with the parties separately, allowing each of them to vent about how they had been taken advantage of by the other. Issues were raised, demands and offers exchanged. While remaining neutral, I empathized with both parties, discussing pros and cons. Finally, the hearing rep made what he said was an offer of his full authority.  I showed him my print-out of the email which showed authority for an additional $15,000. 

He stared at me.  “I have to make a call.” 

“Let’s make it together,” I said.

We got on the phone to the adjuster who said the hearing rep was correct. “Mike” (not the real name), I said, “Are you able to take a look at your email to me of [the email date]?”

“Yes, I see it.”

“That says your authority is $15,000 more.”

“Oh, I didn’t have that authority. I never had that authority.” 

I did NOT say, “Then why did you tell me that’s what you had?”

Instead, I went to the room where the applicant was waiting and put the hearing rep’s offer on the table.

“I have to call my spouse.” I left the room to give her some privacy.

After a little while, the applicant told me her spouse said the offer was an absolute non-starter.

The hearing rep stated he had to leave for another commitment, and the mediation adjourned without resolution.

A few days later, the applicant called me to ask if the offer was still open.  I said I would check.

The case settled by Compromise & Release for the amount of the hearing rep’s offer.

The Lesson

Parties sometimes need time to process everything that happened at mediation. They may have learned about new issues or gained new insights about the basis for the opponent’s position. People often have a negative kneejerk reaction to a demand or offer. After some time to cool down, they may be able to understand a different point of view, even if they don’t agree with it.

Think about why this case settled. What did the applicant gain by being able to talk about the claim with the mediator? What do you think happened between her and her spouse once she got home? What can you conclude about pre-mediation communication between the adjuster and the hearing rep, between the adjuster and the applicant?

How important is it to have everyone who will participate in making the settlement decision attend the mediation?

Four Necessities for Mediation Success

These four attributes are integral to an effective mediation.

Fairness
The process and the person conducting the process must be fair. What’s more, all participants must perceive them as fair. Mediation is a level playing field. This safe, neutral environment is a good place to test the validity of an argument.

The mediator is a professional neutral. Without preconceptions, she can serve as a sounding board for every person’s position. 

Respect
Agreeing to mediation shows respect for others. It signals a willingness to listen. This signal is reinforced by exercising courtesy and diligence in the scheduling process and following through up to, at, and after the meeting.

Communication
Any credibility earned before mediation is squandered if parties demonstrate they are not listening during negotiations. Failure to listen is shown by an inappropriate response, such as shouting at or insulting the opponent or refusing to continue participation.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but the mediator can facilitate communication between parties by separating them and using shuttle diplomacy to calmly convey each party’s message.

Trust
No negotiation result is satisfactory if the parties do not trust the other side to follow through. If mistrust has arisen due to past misunderstandings and broken promises, part of the mediator’s job is to re-build enough trust to resolve the dispute.

One solution to this problem may be to use a different negotiator at mediation, someone who does not incite personal animosity. Another solution is to make sure all agreements are specific and documented before parties leave the mediation. Particularly when the relationship has been hostile, the mediator is the linchpin in parties’ trust in a negotiated agreement.