By Steven G. Mehta

The other day, I mediated a case and the plaintiff told me as follows:  “Tell them that I need the money to provide care to my husband.”  The other side viewed the case as a nuisance case and one that was not meritorious.  In response to the question, I thought to myself that the plaintiff demanding that I tell the other side would not help settle the case.  I thought that the defendant would simply say, “so what.  I need the money too.”  In addition, it reminded me of a principle in negotiations — that is discussed in my book 112 Ways to Succeed in Any Negotiation or Mediation — that people negotiate to their interests and not to other people’s interests.  In other words, people will do things because of their own needs and not because someone else needed something.  Here, the plaintiff’s need for money would not likely motivate the defendant to pay more money or to pay it any quicker.  Indeed, given the zero sum game of many litigated cases, it could have the counter effect of entrenching the other side  — because the defense might say that since plaintiff needs the money, let’s hold on to it longer to cause more pressure on the plaintiff to take less.

In my opinion, unless the parties are in a continuing relationship or expect to be in a continuing relationship, the other side will not likely take into consideration the first party’s needs.  Instead, each party is making a decision on its own needs.  Now in the above case, it might be that defendant could consider that it would pay more money in settlement because it thought that it could eventually be liable for even more at trial  — that, however, is taking its own interests and not the other side’s interests into consideration.

In continuing relationships, however, the interests change.  One party’s interests become more compelling to the other side because both sides need the relationship to work in the future.

Regarless, as a negotiator, you must think of the other side’s needs and try to tailor your requests or offers in light of those needs and not tailor them to your own needs.

Well, what do you think?