How to deal with what you don't know in the middle of a negotiation

May 19, 2024

“It happens to all of us. It often starts with the other side making a statement of fact.

“Patent exhaustion means that no license is required here” or “The laws in my country do not allow venue in the U.S.”

Sometimes it is hogwash, but sometimes it is not.

At that moment, you don't know which.

As a new lawyer, I'd bluff my way through. I'd do my best not to let on that I didn't know and quickly say, “Let me talk to my client about it offline.” I'd then go into deep research mode to figure it out.

Now, rather than pretend that I know, I admit my ignorance and ask the other side to explain it to me.

I ask about the big picture and the nuances, what is absolute and what is flexible, and what options there are for dealing with it.

There are lots of reasons why this approach works. Because now the other side is helping me understand and figuring out how to solve my issue. Chris Voss talked a lot about this approach in his book Never Split the Difference. I love this technique.

It also provides valuable clues and intelligence. Even if I don't understand the legal argument, I now understand my counterpart's view of it. And that is always valuable.”

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