Negotiation Tip: The Door to Settlement

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“I want to ask my spouse to discuss a divorce settlement and put a stop to the litigation,” said Harry on the phone to his lawyer as he paced the floor of his office.

“I always think it’s better to settle than litigate if you can,” said Tom, pausing to take a puff on his pipe.  “Most cases settle.  There are not enough courthouses and judges to try all the cases that are filed.”

“When is the right time to ask?” Harry said as he fell into his office chair.

“Settlement negotiations and litigation proceed on parallel railroad tracks toward the trial date.”  Tom’s pipe went out and there was a moment’s silence as refilled it with tobacco.  “You can settle at any time before trial.  I’ve had trials settle on the  courthouse steps on the day of trial and one even settled at the noon recess after a half day of trial.  People settle for all kinds of different reasons, and you never know when they are ready to settle, so I keep asking every time I get a chance during the litigation process.”

“But do you think it will show weakness or desperation on my part that will cause me to lose bargaining power in the negotiations?”  asked Harry.

“I think it shows strength and confidence,” Tom replied, while relighting his pipe.  “You don’t have to settle on terms you think are unreasonable and you don’t have to bid against yourself.  But it never hurts to let the other side know that the door to good faith settlement discussions swings open on easy hinges.”

“Great.  I’m going to call her.  I can’t thank you enough for this advice.”

“Yes, you can.  When you get my bill.”