• Wilson Tam, Partner of Kennedys, talks to The Mag about the power of negotiation.
• Negotiation takes place whenever we try to communicate what we want while avoiding disputes.
• To succeed in negotiations, it’s important to know and stay focused on our goal, then consider our bargaining chips and stand in our counterpart’s shoes.
What’s the one thing that motivates you? “The Power Series” offers thought leadership insights from industry experts at Taikoo Place on the “power” of their initiatives in relation to everyday life. In July, we speak to Wilson Tam, Partner of Kennedys, about the power of negotiation.
Believe it or not, I didn’t want to become a lawyer at first. I was more interested in joining a logistic company back then, but my mother convinced me to give law a try – you could say she had “won” that negotiation as I’ve already stayed in this industry for 14 years! And when negotiation became my profession, I realised it’s more interesting and powerful than I had thought.
Negotiation happens every day even if you don’t realise it. It may be as simple as asking a teammate or your spouse to do something for you – whenever you’re communicating what you want and trying to convince your counterpart, you are negotiating.
In my case, negotiation is a key part of my job. My main practice at Kennedys is in casualty, which involves representing insurers to handle personal injuries claims. Rather than just looking at figures, I must deal with people. Our client will look at the issue from a commercial perspective; the claimant will think about how much money they can get; and our firm will have to consider the legal aspects of the case. My role, then, is to understand all these different perspectives and try to reach a favourable outcome for everyone.
It’s really about avoiding disputes through communication. No one wants a dispute in court– even as a lawyer, I don’t think court proceedings are always the best way to resolve disputes because there’s a limit to what the court can do. Through negotiation outside of court, it’s possible to explore other solutions that benefit both parties. For instance, I’ve dealt with many claimants with catastrophic injuries, who actually prefer long-term caring services over a large sum of money. So, if our client can directly address their concerns rather than just negotiating on figures, it may be easier to reach a settlement. It’s a win-win situation that’s only achievable through negotiation.
To be a successful negotiator, you need to first understand what you’re negotiating for. What’s your goal? Why are you negotiating? Let’s say you’re working something out with your family – your goal is not to hurt their feelings, but to, within your control, help everyone get what they want. You may encounter a lot of distractions during this process, such as new information and different perspectives from every party involved, so thinking about these questions will help you stay focused.
Then, think about your bargaining chips. In negotiation, the person with more control of the issue naturally has more power. So, how do we expand our bargaining space? First, control the timing. Generally speaking, the earlier you start, the better. A common example is asking for a promotion at work. Waiting until after the promotion has been announced to start negotiating is unideal because the decision has already been made by this point. Instead, voice your concern before the performancereview process begins to increase your bargaining power.
Another factor to consider is the amount of resources you have. A few years ago, we handled a case where the claimant was looking for HK$100 million as compensation. We worked with our international offices to solicit evidence from different countries, which took the claimant by surprise and helped us to settle on a deal of less than HK$30 million in the end. It comes down to being prepared and knowing where to find the resources when you need it.
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Most importantly, you have to adjust your mindset and stand in your opponent’s shoes.
You can’t get what you want unless you know what they need too. My son, for example, would bargain with us about watching TV. He’s too young to be able to communicate clearly, but we know what he really wants is to watch a certain dinosaur show. So instead of turning on the TV, we find other ways to satisfy him – either by recording the programme and playing it back for him later when he shows good behaviour, or by getting him a book about dinosaurs.
Of course, it’s not always easy to know what others’ true expectations are.
Whether it’s a legal case or negotiation in everyday situations, it requires a good relationship with your counterpart for them to open up to you. This is why I prefer not to be the hostile type of negotiators – it’s more helpful to maintain friendly communication so your opponents are willing to share information.
I use the same strategies for self-negotiation, too.
It’s a thought process that forces us to focus on the issue at hand and rethink our priorities. I may really want to go on a Sunday morning drive alone, but as a father it’s my responsibility to spend time with my kids. So I may have to drive another time or even taking them with me. Using these negotiation strategies, I have more clarity as to what I want to achieve and how to satisfy my seemingly opposing wishes, and ultimately, feel more confident about my decisions.
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Do you work at Taikoo Place and want to be featured in The Power Series? Get in touch.