We’re all busy. We all need to get things done. Maybe one of those things is a case you think you can resolve through negotiations or mediation. Given the status of the case you think it’s “ripe” for settlement and negotiations are worth a try. While you think it’s a good time to put some time and energy into trying to work out an agreement, that may not be the case for your client.

One major problem is that your client might not be in the right mindset to negotiate. That situation is discussed in an article in Fast Company magazine by Ted Leonhardt.

He warns that even if you’re a great negotiator you may not be prepared for or in the right frame of mind to negotiate an agreement. Successful negotiation can be very taxing mentally, physically and depending on the issue, emotionally too. Leonhardt warns against negotiating in the following circumstances.

  • Your client is desperate for an agreement.
  • Your client is taken by surprise and isn’t prepared.
  • The rest of your client’s life is too stressful and he or she too drained or distracted to focus.

Should You Just Say No to Negotiating?

Leonhardt says the first two situations are easier to recognize than the third. If your client is desperate to put this issue behind him or her or in need of money that could come from a settlement, you should advise the client of the dangers of the situation but ultimately it’s the client’s decision what to do. If the other party is suddenly interested in negotiation it should not be a big deal to ask for a little time to prepare.

In the third situation not all of us have minds with airtight compartments for all the things going on in our lives. Given the energy and focus needed for a successful negotiation it may be best to try it when the rest of your client’s life is in relatively good shape. Leonhardt shares the story of a successful industrial designer who ended up getting the short end of the stick because he entered into negotiations during a tough stretch in his life.

  • Jesse and his partner of almost twenty years were getting into almost daily arguments.
  • An extra glass of wine could relieve or worsen the situation.
  • Work helped him feel better but he was making mistakes. Longstanding appointments were missed, phone calls weren’t returned and he felt exhausted in the afternoon.
  • A robotics firm wanted him to design a new product. A trip out of town and some time away seemed just what he needed.
  • He submitted a $100,000 budget and booked a flight.
  • Things went well initially. They liked his ideas and the conversation was positive.
  • “I was pretending I didn’t have a care in the world,” Jesse said, “and I almost believed it.”
  • Jesse admitted to being nervous and glad to be away from home so he went overboard with wine that night.
  • The next morning he sat down with the CFO to negotiate the contract. Jesse was hung over, his head was fuzzy, the state of his relationship hung over him and while the CFO went over contract details, Jesse couldn’t focus.
  • “It wasn’t until I was signing my name that I realized she had trimmed 30% off the budget. We lost our shirt on that deal.”

Your client is more than the work he or she provides you. Get to know your client, without prying too much. If negotiations are on the horizon have a chat with your client about it so he or she can think ahead, think about what’s needed and what’s wanted in order to settle. Get a feel for your client to see if there are any major life issues that may interfere with successful negotiations. If so, it may not be the right time to negotiate.

Often times, you will need to evaluate your client’s state of mind to determine if they are ready to negotiate.  There are many times the attorney wants to resolve the case but the client is not emotionally ready to do so.

In addition to your client being a potential problem to the negotiations, you also have to determine whether the other side’s client — and not just the lawyer — is ready to negotiate.  It may be necessary for you to inquire of the other side and obtain information as to the opposing client’s state of mind.

Of course, we want to negotiate and resolve cases, but it is important to understand the mental state of both sides to determine if the matter is ripe.