Do your homework, be patient, build relationships, listen actively, and success will follow

Five stones piles on top of each other in the foreground and a city skyline across water in the background

All to often when you are in a negotiation, conflict, or mediation with someone else you would like to be able to have closure sooner rather than later and you would like your position to be accepted. Don’t we all? However, in the real world with complex issues, it just does not work that way. So, what can we learn from and apply in complex situations? This article focuses on do your homework, be patient, build relationships, listen actively, and chances are success will follow. If not the first time, critique, learn, and persevere for the next time. These are proven techniques, but as with anything that is hard it takes practice.


Do your homework


Chances are you have looked at your position, why you feel the way you do about your position, and you have identified easily identifiable interests. You may have even gone further and brainstormed with your team about other interests considering other vendors, suppliers, customers, shareholders, employees, and other stakeholder interest and perceptions. Have you tried to look at the way the other party is looking at the situation? What do they see as the facts, issues, feelings around the various issues, and interests?

Have you explored this from not only the obvious, but like how you brainstormed about other interests, what other interest may be impacting the other party?

Did you do your homework and consider economic, environmental, and social issues? Are there elements beyond initial price for example related to delivery, quality, quantity, location, timeliness, future contracts, and others’ perceptions of the deal. What can you live with? What is your Best Alternative to A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)? That is at what point do you walk away rather than proceed with deal? In today’s world what about the global impact, national impact, and local impact on the environment and on social issues? With our increased awareness around climate, diversity, equity, and inclusion, what does your and their position have to say from these perspectives?

Come to a negotiation with your position, your BATNA, and at least three alternatives between your position and your BATNA. Try and be prepared for whatever may come. For all these reasons, you need to do your homework. Then you need to be patient during the negotiation.


Be patient


Instead of expecting to negotiate an agreement after your first interaction, plan that this is a process. On simpler issues you may be able to resolve the issues with one meeting. With more complex issues this can take multiple iterations and could last weeks, months, or years. In a recent Harvard Program on Negotiation article on a $4.05 billion deal between Walt Disney Studios and Lucas films terms of future movies, timing of movies, product licensing and other issues, from the first serious negotiations to the announcement of the deal it took 18 months.

Often clients working issues with the IRS hope to have a meeting with the agent and close out the case. Ideally that works. However, follow up sessions with the agent, specialists, and appropriate managers are often needed for material and complex issues. In the end a final meeting with the agent’s manager that controls the statute on the case as the final decision maker may be necessary to close out the case without the case having to go to Appeals.

From the book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – Once School at a Time the author explores the culture in Afghanistan and the need to have tea three times, before even bringing up an issue. Any sooner is an insult. This tells you to know your opposition, their perspective to negotiations, and what might they have as expectations coming into the meeting. How might you want to proceed. Explore where they may be coming from in the last section and be patient.


Build relationships


From the very beginning promote connecting and building relationships.

In the book, The Collaboration Effect the keys are connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously to build bridges and negotiate closure.

This starts with finding common interests, having the right foods and beverages, doing your homework on the other party’s participants virtually and with your network so that you can find ways to connect with the other party. Do not leave this up to chance. Foster ways to connect with the other party. Besides building connecting relationships, from the beginning practice the second element from The Collaboration Effect and initiate active listening.


Listen actively


It has been proven with neuroscience that once you have been listened to you are more receptive to listening to the other party. Think about this and apply this in action. Let the other party go first. Slow down.

Focus on being interested in them rather than being interesting. Be curious. Ask open ended questions. Check your assumptions. Suspend your judgment. Keep an open mind.

Paraphrase, summarize and empathize with the other party. Bo listening actively and building a positive, constructive relationship this can significantly enhance the probability of success with the other party.

So, there you have it. Do your homework, be patient, build relationships, and listen actively. If you make a conscious effort to take actions ahead of time and during the session to keep reminding yourself to carry out these actions, this will help provide you with a much better chance for success.


Success will follow


If someone truly does not want to collaborate with you or is so position based that they want to go to the next level for example, court or arbitration, there is nothing you can do. However, reasonable people can explore the facts, the issues, the emotion around the issues, identify interests and work with each other to find a solution that both parties can at a minimum live with and optimally a much better solution for both.

The key is understanding. Do your homework on the facts, issues, emotions around each issue, and interests of both parties.

Stay focused and be patient with yourself and the other party. Look for ways to connect with the other party to build positive relationships. Listen actively to understand. By taking these actions you will significantly improve your probability for success.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]