Law Ruler April 2024
Ready Set Scale 770
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Don’t Negotiate, Collaborate!

By Stewart Levine

The process of forming an agreement is usually seen as negotiating—an adversarial process in which both parties try to “win.” You could call the result an “agreement for protection.” It’s easy for lawyers to slip into conflict with staff, colleagues or service providers because most of us never learned how to craft the kind of agreement that isn’t about winning, but instead creates a meeting of mind and heart. The best way to prevent conflict and have more productive and satisfying relationships is to create “agreements for results.”

Try this. Shift your discussions in the workplace away from adversarial win-lose negotiating. Instead, engage in a process that articulates a shared vision of outcomes, or a road map to the results all want to achieve. The idea is to shift your thinking from “you or me” to “you and me.”

How to Create Agreements for Results

Discuss these 10 essential items to create an agreement that gets the results you both want.

  1. Intent and vision. Describe a big picture of what you want. The clearer and more specific the desired outcomes, the more likely you will acheive what you’ve visualized.
  2. Roles. Discuss the duties, responsibilities and commitments of everyone you need to achieve the desired results.
  3. Promises of action steps. Specific commitments tell you if the actions will get you to the desired results.
  4. Time/value. All promises must have “by whens” attached. Ask whether the exchange is fair and if it provides enough incentive.
  5. Measurements of satisfaction. Evidence that you achieved your objectives must be clear, direct and measurable to eliminate conflict about whether you accomplished what you began.
  6. Concerns and fears. Unspoken difficulties need to be expressed and the fear behind them addressed. This deepens understanding of what you are taking on and the partnership you are creating.
  7. Renegotiation. No matter how optimistic and clear you are, it will become necessary to renegotiate promises and conditions of satisfaction because things change. When doing so, keep in mind that the quality of working relationships is more important than anything.
  8. Consequences. Determine the consequences for breaking promises, and discuss what will be lost if the project is not completed.
  9. Conflict resolution. Conflicts and disagreements will arise. Agree to an “attitude of resolution,” and what resolution process you will use.
  10. Agreement? When you have reflected together on items 1 through 9, ask whether you “trust” moving forward. Don’t move into action until you can say “yes” and commit to embrace the future as an opportunity to be enjoyed.

This model draws out both the vision of what you want to accomplish as well as a road map that will get you there. It will provide a path to what you want to accomplish—together.

Stewart L. Levine is founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to building strong organizational cultures. A former litigator, Stewart has served on the Council of the ABA Law Practice Management Section and is a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. He is the author of  Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration and The Book of Agreement.

Illustration © ImageZoo

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