In any kind of dispute situation, whether with a spouse, a business partner, a client or a supplier, you may have two objectives which are almost always mutually exclusive:

  1. proving beyond all doubt that you are right and they are wrong; and
  2. getting what you want.

At face value, it appears that the two are complementary to each other. After all, if you have not proven that you are right, and they have not accepted that they are wrong, why would they give you what you want?

For those businesses that are unfortunate enough to end up in Court, proving that they are ‘right’ (contractually or legally, at least, if not morally) is often the principal objective on the road to seeking damages. If you take your dispute to a solicitor or barrister, this is certainly the approach they will take. As a consequence, the ‘blame game’ can become inflammatory and expensive, with each party trying to prove their ‘rightness’ over the other.

There is an old cartoon, dating from the 17th century, showing two disputing parties arguing over who owns a cow. One party is heaving on the cow’s tail, whilst the other hauls on a rope around its neck. Meanwhile, the lawyer sits peacefully milking the cow as the other two battle it out.

This cartoon is an excellent illustration of the consequences of focussing on ‘being right’, as the only person who gets rich from the dispute is the lawyer!

Alternatively, focus on getting what you want. In many disputes, what the parties really want is a solution to the problem, rather than compensation. By looking at the disputed topic creatively, you may well be able to find a solution that is acceptable to both of you without going through the stress and expense of legal proceedings. So how do you get there?

The first step is to be very clear about exactly what you want. This might involve having a faulty product put right, getting paid for enhancements made, securing a long-term revenue stream, having access to consultants to help with another matter, getting some good PR… The longer you can make this list, and the more creative you can be in defining your ‘wants’, the more negotiating space you create for yourself.

The second step is to think about what the other party might want. Get similarly creative as you consider what their priorities might be in this matter.

Then you need to get together. Having an uninvolved third party present to mediate might help to keep the emotional temperature under control, but the objective of the meeting is to see how you can both find a solution to your common problem.

Many companies fall down at this stage, being unwilling to make any concessions towards the other party at all – after all, they are ‘right’, so why should they? There are, actually, a number of reasons why making concessions can be a good strategy even when you are convinced that your own case is watertight. Thinking back to our cow and the happy lawyer, we can see that if we are not able to resolve this dispute ourselves it will cost a great deal of time and money to take it to Court, as well as potentially damaging our reputation and taking our focus off of the company’s day to day operations.

By taking egos out of the negotiation, and moving away from the allocation of blame towards a joint search for a solution, you can achieve an outcome far more quickly and cheaply than by taking legal action. Of course, there will be some disputes that have no chance of resolution other than in the Courts – but these are far fewer in number than the legal dairymaids might want us to believe. Let us help you find a solution before it gets to that point, contact us for a no obligation chat. You may wish to learn new techniques on our interactive negotiation workshop.

Tiffany Kemp
Founder and Managing Director, Devant