GPSolo Magazine - October/November 2005

Civility and Negotiations

Civility is—and should be—a core negotiation issue. The degree to which one employs ordinary civility in negotiations often has a marked effect on the bottom-line result. It also can make life more pleasant, even in fundamentally adversarial situations, essentially the norm for business litigators and transactional lawyers. An example of what not to do is the opposing counsel who—instead of working together to resolve a dispute or problem in customized, mutually acceptable fashion—prematurely blurts out, “I’ll see you in court.” This knee-jerk reaction usually fails as a negotiation tactic, for many reasons:

  • It reflects a lack of analytic forethought and a tendency for emotional outbursts, two aspects that make this lawyer a less-than-formidable adversary.
  • It essentially obliterates the possibility of counsel working together for the mutual benefit of the clients, who likely could achieve through a tailored settlement a result far better for both sides than any court would order. Because the vast majority of business litigations settle before trial, it is a fair bet that the parties will end up in some sort of settlement negotiations, regardless.
  • Over time, this lawyer will develop a reputation as a loose cannon and a temperamental, petulant, unprofessional person to whom others would not refer clients. Opposing counsel often serve as a good referral source for future business because they have seen firsthand what the lawyer can do in the trenches.
  • Finally, to the extent that this lawyer’s own client learns of his reaction, the client may become dissatisfied with a lawyer who seems out of control and willing to put his own emotional needs ahead of the client’s best interests.

In a hearing before an arbitrator, the less civil party often merely is endeavoring to overcompensate for unfavorable facts or law, whereas the more civil party in a dispute often feels no need to descend into incivility. Indeed, obstreperous counsel thus inadvertently acknowledges implicitly that he or she likely has a less than wholly legitimate case on the facts and/or law—not something a lawyer seeks to communicate to the one who is judging the case and will issue the final determination.

Don’t lose your temper. Rather, lose the temper, yelling, and foul language. Although “venting” might improve your mood, it rarely works to your advantage in negotiations. Yes, occasionally it may tend to intimidate; however, the same result likely could be achieved in those instances without the expletive-laden, high-decibel diatribe. Most often, it will cause a diminution in credibility and respect. And that’s a price not worth paying for the occasional negotiation advantage it arguably might afford. Indeed, a prompt apology for an emotional outburst might gain more ground toward a good working relationship and achieving the negotiated goal.

Employ common courtesy and civility as a matter of routine.Make it a part of your natural way of dealing with others, and you will see how effective it is, both in terms of results and in your quality of life. Sure, there are times when the need for some more forceful language and volume may be indicated, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. (The rarity of your outbursts will also increase their impact.) And by refusing to respond in kind when someone personally offends you by words or actions, you refrain from lowering yourself to their level, and that in itself is a laudable goal. Even the matter of responding to e-mails and telephone voice mail messages encompasses these tenets of common courtesy and civility—prompt response by you encourages similar treatment by your counterpart. The more the enlightened use these means of conducting legal and business negotiations, the more likely their use will spread. How much better things would be if this became the usual mode for the majority.


David J. Abeshouse practices business litigation and alternative dispute resolution in Uniondale, Long Island, New York. He is an arbitrator and mediator as well as an advocate. Visit his website at or contact him at




Back to Top