The How To Issue

How to Negotiate: David Boies


How to Negotiate: David Boies

Illustration by Neal Fox

You need to know what you would like to achieve and what you would accept as your last alternative—that is, what would you prefer to have as opposed to not getting any deal. The result of the negotiation will almost always be somewhere in between those two points. One of the things you try to find out first is whether the other side is in the same range or not. If it’s not, you can’t get a deal. You don’t want to posture. You want to maintain your credibility. When you tell the other side that the settlement has to be at a particular level, you want them to believe you. Don’t give false expectations that make the other side think you are prepared to settle at a lower level than you really are. That can cause them to dig in and not negotiate a deal you both would accept. Don’t stake out a position that’s so high they conclude that’s your walk-away point and everything ends right there.

Be patient. In lots of negotiations, you have to move slowly. Otherwise, you give a false impression that you are too anxious for a settlement. That can lead the other side to take a position that prevents a successful completion. You want to make reasonable arguments. You want to try to persuade the other side of the merits of your point of view. Those things can help on the margins. But my experience has been that people go into large, important negotiations with a point of view that is not likely to change materially. They have thought about this just like you. They aren’t going to say, “Oh, that’s a great argument. I give up.” At least, that’s never happened to me. — As told to Devin Leonard

Boies is chairman of the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner and represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore.

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