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Tip Tuesday: Negotiator Tips at the Table

November 12, 2019

Contract negotiations are one of the most significant events to occur within an organization. If not conducted properly, the relationship between the union and employer can become contentious and a public relations nightmare. We've gathered some tips that every negotiator can use at the table.

  • Come prepared. If the other party is expecting responses or proposals from you, arrive at the session prepared to pass and discuss your proposals on time. If unavoidable delays prevent you from doing so, provide the other party with as much advance notice as possible as a common courtesy 
  • Keep good notes. Arbitrations are often won or lost based on bargaining history evidence supported by detailed negotiation notes. It’s common to have to rely on notes to defend a position months or years after the language is negotiated. 
  • Have a dedicated note taker(s). As the principle spokesperson, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to capture all of the key discussion points if you are the one doing the talking. Always have someone at the table to take detailed notes. Preferably, using the same individual for each session provides for better consistency and also enables the note taker to better listen for the critical points in the flow of discussions if he or she was present at the prior exchanges. 
  • Have one principle spokesperson. Be sure that your negotiating team understands the importance of speaking with one voice and the risk of creating unnecessary confusion, or worse, if the wrong message or information is conveyed to the other party. This is particularly important if individuals are brought to the table who are not as familiar with the process or with the specifics of prior discussions on a particular issue.
  • Allow the other side to express their position and views without interruption. Your side will have its own time to respond and/or counter at the appropriate time. 
  • Don’t hesitate to take a caucus if the situation warrants. Encourage your negotiation team members to ask you for a caucus if a private discussion is needed before responding to a particular question or issue across the table. 
  • If the relationship allows for it, brief the other side’s chief negotiator before passing a proposal on an unusually sensitive or potentially volatile issue.