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Negotiation Rules - MP Mr Mark

As a dispute resolution solicitor a big part of my job is conducting negotiations. This can take a variety of forms including letters and telephone conversations, round table meetings or more formal mediation. I also frequently advise clients who wish to conduct negotiation themselves on an ad hoc basis and I am often asked if there are any rules or top tips for negotiation.

Every Negotiation is Different

To this I say that every negotiation is different and it depends on the type of settlement process you are engaging in but if there are three key rules I would say these are:

  • Make the discussions “without prejudice save as to costs”. This broadly means that anything you say or commit to paper during the course of a negotiation process cannot be used against you in any legal proceedings;
  • Make the negotiations “subject to contract”. This means that what is agreed is subject to formal documentation, usually drafted by solicitors, on which you can receive advice, before the settlement is concluded; and
  • If in doubt say nothing, listen and take further advice.

Something I heard on the radio this morning reminded me of the importance of this last one.

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Prime Minister's Question Time

New Zealand MP Ron Mark was taking part in Prime Minister’s Question Time in the New Zealand Parliament recently and this was broadcast on the television station Parliament TV.

Mr Mark was clearly frustrated by the way the session was going as he muttered a barely audible comment under his breath whilst a fellow MP was speaking. I won’t say exactly what was said here but it is fair to say that comments of that sort would at best be described as inappropriate for that forum.

Sign Language Awareness Week

The comment was missed by the Speaker and Mr Mark would have likely got away with it had it not been the case that New Zealand was enjoying Sign Language Awareness Week.

Further to this, a guest interpreter had been invited into the house to sign the MP’s comments for television purposes. The interpreter, a lip reader, picked up Mr Mark’s comment and colourfully interpreted it, via the mode of sign, for the TV audience.

Needless to say this led to embarrassment for Mr Mark and the necessity for an apology and underlines the tenet that sometimes, the best way to help yourself is to keep your mouth shut.