Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter May 2001

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 16, May 2001


Our website's advice section has grown to the equivalent of over two hundred pages as people from around the world have asked a tremendous variety of questions. Nonetheless one issue keeps arising whether the questions relate to problems people are having with their work or as they buy things as important as houses. It appears that all too often people don't pay attention to details in the contracts that come to embody the agreements reached as a consequence of negotiation.

One associate of mine got me very concerned when, during a business meeting, he suggested I put my pad of paper away. "Steve, you won't need to take notes of our conversation," he said. He was doing me a favor; my handwriting is bad enough that I probably would never have been able to decipher many of the notes I might have taken. As a consequence I listened very carefully to every word spoken during our meeting.

If you're in a negotiation, it is a cardinal rule to listen actively. Pay attention to what is said - and to what is not said. When issues occur to you that another party may be failing to address, ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions until you are genuinely sure that you have understood what the other party really means. The best way to be sure you have understood is to ask them, "Am I correct in my understanding that you said 'xyz'?" There is no such thing as a stupid question. It is crucial, however, to pay close attention to the answers.

What does this have to do with paying attention to the small print? In the negotiation process it is crucial to pay constant attention to how the ultimate agreement will be fulfilled by the parties once the hands are shaken or the contract has been signed. Paying attention to the small details while negotiating protects you from surprises once the agreement has been reached and it is time for the parties to deliver on their promises.

The small print is what we call those seemingly inconsequential details folks throw into agreements that can turn into monsters later on. If we are dealing with people we don't know very well or with people who are more sophisticated than we are in that particular kind of business, it is even more important to question details. An even wiser move is to try to learn about 'their' business, reputation, and follow-through by doing research with other people with whom they have reached similar deals.

Asking for references helps somewhat; but we have to expect that no one in their right mind is going to offer a dissatisfied client as a reference. One needs to look for additional sources of information. If the deal under consideration is with a building contractor, it makes sense to talk with the subcontractors on the job; find out whether the contractor is cutting corners or is using poor quality materials. One can also check bank references or with trade associations to learn about a party's reputation.

It is not realistic to think we can anticipate all the possible problems that may arise during the life of an agreement. Thus it is important to negotiate fairly and with civility so that if questions need to be raised during the life of the contract, the relationship among the parties won't stand in the way of dealing with what comes up later on.


Our website has been getting 'hits' at the rate of about one million per year. People from all over the world have been turning to for information about our programs and staff as well as advice and ideas about negotiation. It also appears that some people think that we offer advice on just about any issue; several times we have had to suggest that people should address their questions to more qualified health, legal or other professionals rather than a group that specializes in negotiation. Some of the questions to which we are uncomfortable responding have dealt with mental health issues, assistance writing student papers, and specific financial advice.

We hope you will visit the site often to review new items in the advice section, meet our staff, and review new programs and products we offer.


"A half truth is a whole lie." (from The Big
Little Book of Jewish Wit and Wisdom)

Enjoy your negotiations,

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The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.   P O Box 172   Pride's Crossing, MA 01965, USA   
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