Negotiation is central to both law and life in general. As a former corporate lawyer, a large part of my role in acting for the firm’s clients involved negotiating with legal counsel for the other party in disputes and transactions. The goal was to reach a private agreement, without the need to take formal legal action such as litigation or arbitration. Negotiation also occurs regularly in day to day life, even though it may be conducted in a more informal way and therefore be disguised as mere dialogue. Even a discussion about a trivial matter such as what to have for dinner may include an element of negotiation. Negotiation is about communication and compromise. It forces both parties to listen to each other, reconsider their initial position and try to meet somewhere in the middle. Normally, some give and take is required in order to reach an agreement.
The word no is extremely powerful. It signals the end of the road and a refusal to engage in further discussion. It’s a bit like issuing an ultimatum to someone and saying “take it or leave it”. At the office, no was a word that I seldom used. Lawyers usually try to find solutions to problems. An important part of the role of a legal advisor is to advise on risk. The question was therefore not whether the client could act in a certain way, but what the legal implications would be if they decided to do so. In my personal life, it’s also a word that I try to avoid because compromise is the key to building and maintaining successful relationships. By contrast, acquiescence, the result of coercion, can be dangerous. It is entirely appropriate to say no and stand your ground. Where consent is an issue, no means no. End of story.
As I develop the concept of Anita’s Garden from a physical green space into an entity, I have found myself constantly engaging in negotiations with customers, suppliers and consultants. Lately, I have been finding that on the odd occasion when I have used the word no and really meant it, I have been met with forceful resistance which has left me taken aback. There is a fine line between tenacity and being perceived as pushy. While the former is an admirable quality, the latter can be a little off-putting. Furthermore, respect is an important attribute. Sometimes, you need to back down and respect someone’s feelings when they say no.