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Why We Can’t Just Cut to the Chase: Acceptance Time in Negotiation

From the Settlement Perspectives from John DeGroote.

Not so long ago I was in Cleveland mediating a fairly complex commercial dispute.  My client had a plane to catch at the end of the day but, as is often the case, he really wanted a good deal.  Based on each side’s positions and the “dance” to that point, we both knew where the case would probably settle.  At about 3:00 in the afternoon he looked at his watch and asked a question most of us have heard before:  “Why don’t we just cut to the chase, offer what it’s going to take to settle this thing, and get out of here?”

“Cut to the Chase” Is Not a Negotiation Term

I recently learned that Hollywood, rather than frustrated negotiators, brought us the phrase “cut to the chase.”  Like today, good movies from the early days of talking pictures frequently ended with a chase scene.  “Obligatory romantic storylines” that weren’t exactly the best part of the movie often preceded the chase, according to The Phrase Finder.  Unfortunately, getting from the obligatory romance to the end wasn’t always smooth — Wikipedia tells us that, at some point, “an inexpert screenwriter or director, unsure how to get to the climax, would just make an abrupt transition, known as a cut.”

The Chase Scene Doesn’t Work Without the Rest of the Movie

While experienced negotiators may realize it a bit sooner than everyone else, at some point we all begin to see where our deal is headed.  Once that happens, we are often tempted to “cut to the chase” and jump to that final number.  Some ask, “Why is it taking so long?  What are they doing over there?”  One answer is that the best deals just take time.  The better answer is that the best deals require acceptance time — time for the “obligatory storyline” to play itself out.

“Acceptance Time” Can Be a Critical Part of Your Negotiation

Acceptance time makes sense when it’s explained, and, in hindsight, it explains more about our failed negotiations than we would care to admit.  An important corollary to managing expectations, which we have discussed before, acceptance time is best described by Chester Karrass in his blog and, better yet, in his 1974 classic Give & Take:

The idea of acceptance time is so simple that it is often overlooked.  Yet, when understood, it has the power to make each of us more effective.

People need time to accept anything new or different.  Both parties walk into a negotiating session with somewhat unrealistic goals.  They start with all kinds of misconceptions and assumptions.  Being human, they hope against hope that their goals will, for a change, be easily met.  The process of negotiating is usually a rude awaking.

Can we expect the buyer or seller to adjust to . . . new and undesired realities immediately?  Of course not.  Resistance to change is universal.

While many negotiators are willing to invest untold amounts of money and other resources into getting a good deal, time is an ingredient often overlooked.  There is a price for immediate gratification; if you have to have closure right now, it won’t come for free.  So schedule a late dinner after your next negotiation, bring a magazine to your next mediation, or book your return flight for the day after your next set of talks.  Allow acceptance time to help you get your dispute resolved and your deal done.

Was It the Ribeye?

As for my mediation in Cleveland, we resisted the temptation to “cut to the chase” and gave the other side the acceptance time they needed.  My client might have missed his plane, but the deal he got by waiting paid for a lot more than dinner.


John DeGroote

John serves as a mediator and arbitrator in complex business, technology, and intellectual property matters involving parties and interests around the country and beyond — often before litigation is filed. Prior to his service as a mediator and arbitrator, John served as the lead settlement negotiator in hundreds of cases,… MORE >

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