Negotiations were going smoothly but now the two sides find themselves at a stalemate. You thought your contract was airtight, now there seems to be a loophole—a legal battle ensues. But litigation can be too costly for a small business.
It’s time for conflict resolution. “An impasse in negotiation and a middle-of-a-contract dispute are two separate things. One can be in the middle of a contract dispute, but not an impasse, per se,” says Alex Dukhovny, Mediator/CEO of Right Triangle Mediation. “If you are at an impasse, then the best thing you can do is to take a big step back and reevaluate your ‘BATNA.’ When you take a step back you can try and decide what is your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.”
And how do you do this? “Try to see what are the most important issues to you and what will happen if you do not gain these items,” explains Dukhovny. “Try to prioritize as well as look at everything from a ‘positive accomplishment’ perspective. Meaning, not what you will not have to deal with if you get something, but rather what will you receive which will satisfy you. This will help you formulate your needs and wants much better. The same goes for being in the middle of a contract dispute, but instead of taking a step back, this should be the first step you take.”
Sometimes it is necessary to have a mediator—an outside, neutral party to help resolve the situation. “A mediator is almost always a good idea. The reasons why are vast, however, here are a few things to keep in mind,” explains Dukhovny. “Mediation is assisted negotiation. Meaning that you are always in control of the outcome of your negotiation. A mediator is there to empower your already-given negotiation skills. A mediator is there to help you step back from your emotions and focus on the issues. A mediator is there to open up other possibilities which you may not have thought of yourself. A mediator is a Sherpa through the treacherous terrain of dispute resolution.”
Getting a mediator can help the aprties get to a resolution faster. Depending on a case, a mediation may last from a few hours to a few weeks. “A typical commercial mediation may last as little as 2 – 4 hours to 2 – 3 days,” says Dukhovny.
When looking for a perfect mediator for your situation, research your options and interview the possible candidates. “To find a good mediator, check Mediate.com, ACRnet.org, your local city hall and/or your local bar association,” advises Dukhovny. “Be sure to look for a mediator who has experience in the issue you are trying to resolve. Best advice? Call the mediator and interview him or her. Don’t just call one. Call several. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to get referrals from mediators as mediation, in itself, is a confidential process.”