Business people often try avoiding this reality. However, for good or bad, business transactions usually end up being negotiated by lawyers. The decision makers leave the room shaking hands with a big smile on their face thinking this business deal is behind them. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details! Once those business people are replaced by their confident legal advisers representing them in the negotiation, all hell breaks loose.

Lawyers are known for their egos. This ego can lead some lawyers to forget their real mission – completing the business deal on behalf of their client – and instead spend days arguing over details which could have been easily settled. What guides these types of lawyers is not the desire to close the deal but rather the desire to win the debate they have engaged in. This turns them into inefficient negotiators.

Having been involved in many complicated business transactions, I find that the best strategy is to actually avoid any battles between egos, thus focusing all our energies on resolving all pending items for discussion in the most time and cost efficient manner for the benefit of our client. This strategy can be summarized in one short sentence: Be friends with those working opposite you!

You would not believe the effect a positive and friendly environment has on the negotiation process. Take off the gloves, be friendly, be personal and when possible, if not harming your client’s interests, be supportive and act as the devil’s advocate defending your opponent’s interests. It is a known fact that small concessions reduce hostility and build trust. Trust, in turn, allows for much greater gains in the negotiation. A simple smile can disarm a room full of angry and tense lawyers. The end result is calmer, faster and more efficient negotiations.

Those principles apply in almost all business environments. Sitting at the table alongside lawyers based in several different continents, I came to the exact same conclusion. Negotiation can be simpler and less painful when you are friends with (or at least liked by) your opponent.

Negotiation with Emotion is hardly effective. Negative emotions are less likely to erupt and interfere with the negotiations where the atmosphere is light. When feeling surrounded by friends, your opponent is more likely to concede and bridge gaps which could have remained central disagreements.

Below are some friendly tips on how to break the ice with your opponent:

Smile. It is much harder to be angry at a smiling person;

Be personal, engage in small talk. Ask a personal question, reveal personal information about yourself;
Make small concessions. These might encourage your opponent to agree to your demands on issues of more value later on;
On occasion, act as devil’s advocate. By correcting your opponent’s mistakes, you increase your opponent’s trust, while you continue to control the process when most needed. 

Finally, setting aside practical considerations, being friends with your opponent might also benefit you personally. Who knows, your opponent might turn out to be a great friend!