Before you file a case, take a chill pill

Miscellaneous Labor Law 8 min read , November 14, 2020

People seem to think that the best negotiation strategy in legal cases is the aggressive route. Let's go in guns blazing and take no prisoners. Let's intimidate the enemy into submission. Be the biggest voice in the room and drown everyone out. Finally, to cap the negotiations off, file the scariest and heaviest case we can find and duke it out in court. But is this really the best strategy that works in the real world? Let's find out in today's article.

Let me share some observations I've had. I've been involved in a number of negotiations and cases myself, and hopefully, I you get to benefit from the lessons I've picked up over the years.

Damn fine coffee
Photographer: Andrew Neel | Source: Unsplash

Do lawyers really act the way they do on TV and movies?

From watching movie and TV portrayals of lawyers, most people tend to think that negotiations are won by tactics that favor fighting and intimidation as the default tool. It's the loud, intimidating lawyer in the fancy barong or business suit who steals the show and wins the day.

While that may be true for some lawyers, in reality, that's generally how it plays out in most legal situations. Reality is a lot less dramatic because good conflict resolution strategies rely on looking at all your options, and choosing the best one. It does not rely on being reactive and being solely driven by emotions.

In short, you only resort to the "heavy" remedies (such as filing cases and other aggressive tactics) when there is no other choice. You are not forced to wage war when diplomacy and negotiations can win the day for you.

Stated otherwise, let's hear what Harvey Specter from suits has to say about dealing with conflict:

What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head? You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty-six other things. - Harvey Specter

The point is that there are multiple ways to react. So don't fall into reaction mode. Think, and consider other options before choosing the best way to carry out the negotiation. There is no need to panic and resort to attack mode.

Open your eyes to all options available

When a person consults us about how soon they can file a certain case, they sometimes get surprised that we tell them to slow down, take a breath and take a step back. We instruct them that taking some time to explore less severe options, such as negotiations, often yield better results.

Take for example that someone owes you money. Does it make sense to spend money engaging a legal team, drafting a complaint and paying heavy filing fees to get your money back? Does it make sense to charge into the debtor's place of work, make demands there and force them to pay you back at the expense of your business relationship?

It depends.

Are these actions taken after you've thought thru all available options, or are they knee-jerk reactions? If they are well considered actions which form part of a bigger strategy, then by all means, go ahead and good luck with making it work. But if you're doing it just because you feel angry or betrayed, then you'd better think again. Severe actions like these should only be taken after thinking it thru and comparing it with other options available.

Same thing happens when you're sick and you consult a good doctor. A good physician will always explore less invasive ways to treat a disease. They consider a trip to the operating table a last resort. They will take a look at your situation and see if there's a pill, balm, syrup, or therapy available to cure you. If that works, then great! If not, then that's the right time to consider invasive operations. There is a proper sequence for everything. You don't jump the gun.

Mellow Yellow
Photographer: Gabrielle Henderson | Source: Unsplash

Let's apply this thinking to our case

Going back to our discussion, how does this apply? Instead of filing a case or attacking the other party, can you opt to set a meeting for a civil talk? Why not carry out negotiation talks? Can demands take a back seat in favor of getting representatives or lawyers to open sincere negotiations between the two camps? How about asking a third party to serve as a mediator while you work out your differences thru civil discussions?

And that's the point. Consider problem-solving with your opponent thru negotiations. Consider open dialogue. Don't close yourself off by being stubborn, not listening or attacking everyone. Consider less aggressive options first.

Let's consider 3 good reasons why this strategy works in real world situations:

macro view of a referee
Photographer: Nathan Shively | Source: Unsplash

1. The law itself is set up to help you use alternatives to litigation.

The law itself is set up to support alternatives to filing a case or going thru with litigation. Don't believe me? Google some of these following terms to get an idea:

  • Katarungang pambaranggay
  • Mediation
  • Judicial Mediation
  • Arbitration

When the law considers alternative ways to resolve disputes, it means hashing out your differences via discussions in the hope that you come to a settlement by yourselves. To orchestrate these negotiation sessions, there are multiple mandatory procedural stops where you are forced to sit down and talk it out with the other party before you proceed to the actual litigation process. It's not like in the movies where you enter the ring and fight it out from the start.

At the end of the day, the end goal of the law is to get justice for the parties. If it can be reached through other means rather than a full-blown hearing ending in a decision, then all good! Why not take advantage of these opportunities? The law went out of its way to make it available, it is such a waste not to utilize them fully.

Photographer: Icons8 team | Source: Unsplash

2. Once you go in aggressive, calmer options are thrown off the table

If you go in with an aggressive stance at the onset of a case, it's harder to come to a civil settlement. This is especially true with emotional legal conflicts where a lot of baggage is involved.

Be very careful with angry words in a negotiation. Once you say some horrible things at the meeting, you effectively rule out any civil solutions or compromises. Instead of inviting your opponent to work with you on a solution, they're now focused on how to hurt you back.

From a tactical standpoint, this works against you because your negotiation options have dried up. Remember this: when negotiating, the party with more options usually wins. The more fallback positions and possible solutions you have, the more flexibility you enjoy in solving the problem. Don't paint yourself into a corner just because you gave into pride or anger in the heat of the moment. That's an amateur move. Be better.

When coming into talks, keep this short checklist in mind so you don't blow your top and throw options off the table prematurely:

  • Don't attribute ill will - otherwise, this judgment will color everything they say and you won't be able to objectively see things.
  • Utilize Active Listening - You'll be able to pick up a lot of information once you drop your judgments and really listen to the other party. We teach this in our workshops as an effective conflict resolution technique. Go here to learn more.
  • Be open to exploring options together - It never ceases to amaze me how the other party has helped me resolve cases once we decided to work together. Brainstorming and negotiating with the other party to find ways to resolve the situation has led to a number of solved cases. Try it yourself.

Just give it a chance. Anyway, if these opening tactics doesn't work, then you can go ahead and utilize the aggressive tactics you've been holding back. They're always there waiting for you. All I'm saying is that there's nothing to lose if you sequence these approaches in the right way.

Peace Sign
Photographer: Eddie Kopp | Source: Unsplash

3. It's a less stressful way to live and solve problems

Can you imagine coming to work angry all day, every day, all year? I honestly think this isn't sustainable. It's very difficult to maintain this level of energy for every engagement. It will only be a matter of time before you burn out. If you suspect that you're well on your way there, check this resource out on burnout from work related stress.

Nor do I think it's a reputable way to build a career. You want to be able to maintain a reputation for being a good player in business. If you consistently exude the angry vibe, you'll be closing off opportunities since you may be perceived as hard to work with.

Finally, it's a very inefficient approach to life. Why stick with being angry and aggressive when there are easier ways to solve the same situation? Why put in all the effort? It's like hitting a screw with a sledgehammer, when turning a screwdriver will do the job equally well?

Be smart about it

Anger and aggression, as with everything else, has its place. In a negotiation sometimes, an aggressive stance may be just what the situation calls for. This article is here to serve as a reminder not to use aggressive tactics in their right place. Avoid using it as a default, and open your mind to other less-invasive solutions. Hope you consider this the next time you face a negotiation, legal situation or conflict.

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