Mythbusting: Deals are Best Closed Quickly Before They Can Fall Apart

Mythbusting: Deals are Best Closed Quickly Before They Can Fall Apart

Mythbusting: Deals are Best Closed Quickly Before They Can Fall Apart

Mediators and negotiators know that not every deal is a good deal and that agreements can quickly fall apart if not carefully thought through. A key step in the mediation process is to ‘reality-test’ outcomes to ensure that they resolve any outstanding issues, leave no lingering questions that could reignite the conflict, and won’t fall apart the minute something doesn’t go as planned. Good mediators ask the tough questions to achieve deals that last.

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

“What’s with all the questions?  We both want this solution, which was the whole point of this, right?  Why are you bringing up potential challenges? Don’t we have to close the deal as soon as possible – before things get in the way?”

In our last Mythbuster article, we wrote about how the purpose of mediation is not simply to reach a deal.  But we know that many clients are hoping to reach an agreement or find a common understanding in mediation.  And mediation makes agreements possible in even the most tense and difficult circumstances. 

To enable such agreements, we – like many good mediators – have a strange practice.  At the outset, we tell all of our clients that there will be a point in the mediation where they will be annoyed with us.  When we will ask questions that feel like they disrupt the momentum and delay a deal.  But why would we do this?

At a negotiating table, a potentially workable deal can be very exciting. After all, deals represent the promise of opening a working relationship, and/or closing a conflict.  That means both peace of mind and being able to turn resources and attention to other matters. And that excitement is a good thing, in moderation.  When the excitement becomes overpowering though, people can agree to deals that sound fine in the moment but simply will not work in practice.  This is where help from a good mediator can be the difference between achieving a good deal versus getting stuck in a bad deal. 

A ‘good deal’ is one that will work for the parties and won’t fall apart the moment something changes. So the questions that we pose to our clients are not designed to disrupt momentum, but rather to get them thinking about the medium to long-term implications of the proposals in front of them.  And to anticipate how they plan to take the solutions proposed at the table - or virtually on Zoom – and implement them in practice.  This is known as ‘reality-testing’ - the process of mediators getting clients to think about how their proposals will be implemented.  When a question about timetables, approvals necessary, or stumbling blocks creates a pause in the conversation – that pause allows our clients to prevent potential catastrophe later.  As the old adage says, “a stitch in time saves nine.” 

Some negotiators will ask us whether these disruptions get in the way of “closing” deals.  Simply put, no.  Any deal that was going to close and leave the parties in a better position than they started should not be derailed by the details. Questions about implementation or whether the solution is realistic do not get in the way of any deal that was truly workable.  Rather, they lead to deals that will actually be sustainable. And if certain details are not critical to the final agreement, that’s okay too. The important thing is that each party comes into the deal with their eyes open – so that future surprises can be minimized.  Once a potential solution has been vetted – parties can have confidence that they’ve foreseen the likely problems and can work through them as needed.  That is a basis for a durable deal, and a strong working relationship going forward. 

Our response to those concerned negotiators is that a workable deal is not so fragile that it can disappear with a single question about execution.  Workable deals bake in important details like implementation, measurement and accountability.  Workable deals turn conflict into opportunity and create value, rather than simply delaying the problem to another day.  And Venn Mediation strives to provide our clients the opportunity to reach workable deals. Even if it means asking the hard questions. 

Reality-testing is an important part of the mediation and negotiation process.  If you or someone you know is stuck in conflict and searching for real, effective solutions, contact Venn Mediation.  We are based in New York but are experts in online mediation and can work with people anywhere. Disputes can be difficult, but dispute resolution doesn’t have to be. We would love to help.

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