Coach your Client to be a Better Negotiator: Tips for Negotiating Effectively

Two young boys playing in the grass their swim trunks. One on the left is holding a bucket, the boy on the right is petting a grey puppy.ADR professionals are, by definition, skilled negotiators. What attitudes, skills, and strategies do we already have to help coach our clients to achieve the best possible outcomes?

10 Coaching Tips for Clients


1. Our clients all come to us from a place of fear. They fear loss: of what they want or need, of a relationship, of control, or of bargaining power. We know from research that people are more likely to focus on what they have to lose in a negotiation than what they have to gain.

They also may fear reprisal from the other party or others; the impact that an emotional discussion might have on them or the other party; or the process itself, as many clients have never engaged in facilitated bargaining before.

2. People who are afraid are likely to act defensively, unpredictably, positionally and perhaps uncooperatively.

3. Our job is to create a safe place for them to have difficult conversations so that they can overcome fear and the behaviours that it causes. Instead, clients can focus on powerful negotiation.

4. Our best tools for doing this? Genuine curiosity, non-judging observation and questioning, and a keen self-awareness of our own responses to conflict and personal biases.

5. How can you structure your process in a way that allows you to be curious, non-judging and aware? For example, have clients complete pre-process confidential intake forms so you have some information from them, about them, before you meet them. Give them time at the pre-processing stage, preferably in confidential one-on-one meetings, to tell you about themselves, their concerns, their needs, their fears.

6. Learn the skill of conflict analysis and use all the available tools to identify the sources of conflict. Use these tools to help the clients analyze their own conflicts too.

7. Help clients focus on creative feelings to generate a positive, forward-thinking and optimistic sense of future possibilities.

8. Understand the research on basic human emotional needs, and design your process to enable clients to have those needs met, and to empower them to meet these needs in the other.

9. Cultivate an atmosphere of respect. Encourage clients to understand that basic human respect can be the least expensive, and most effective concession they can make in a negotiation.

10. Keep clients focused on making and responding to concrete proposals to avoid getting mired in blame and the past. “Who can do what today to move this matter forward?” is the question you want to ask them when they get stuck.

With these skills, you will find your clients better equipped for the bargaining process.

Good luck!


Originally posted by Hilary Linton 2015 ©

Hilary Linton is a Toronto lawyer whose practice is restricted to providing mediation, arbitration, teaching and consulting services.  She has used her years of experience to launch her ADR business, Riverdale Mediation, which specializes in family mediation and arbitration, teaching mediation and negotiation theory and skills, and private training and consulting for corporations, government and individuals.