Pippa Blakemore, of the PEP Partnership LLP, gives advice on how in-house lawyers can develop influencing and negotiating skills, which are becoming key assets as in-house roles continue to grow

The role of in-house lawyers has rarely been as exciting or as challenging as it is now. In-house counsel are increasingly seen as contributing to the achievement of the vision, mission and objectives of their organisation. They are perceived as business advisers and partners with the management in the implementation of organisational strategy.

In-house lawyers are no longer isolated in a silo, buried deep in the legal department. In order to have authority, you need to understand the strategy, objectives, priorities, and requirements of the organisation. You need to know about the markets, the competition, the industry and the culture of the sector that the organisation works in, and to understand the political and economic pressures

Challenges are increasing with the rapacious flow of laws, regulations and statutes produced on a daily basis, nationally and internationally. All require speedy response and rapid assessment of their implications for the organisation. In addition, public scrutiny is immediate and can be merciless and torrential through social media. Internally, there is increasing pressure to reduce costs and increase quality. The speed of communication and the increasing pressures on general counsel make the role demanding.

The ability to influence and negotiate are therefore essential.

Clarify your objectives

Your objectives have two aspects. The first is what you want to achieve and the second is what you want to obtain from the other party. Before you start to try to influence anybody, or negotiate a deal, it is essential for you to be absolutely clear on your own objectives.

Aspect one: what do you want to achieve?

To be able to measure your success rate, set yourself SMART objectives - Simple - Measurable - Achievable - Results-driven - Time-bound. What do you want to achieve - numbers you can measure? By when: dates and times? Why? How important is it to you? Write these down and record, so that you are able to evaluate the extent to which you achieved your objectives afterwards.

Aspect two: what do you want to achieve from the other side? 

What do you want people to do; to think; to feel; to act and how to communicate, with whom and when? How important is it to the other party?

Successfully influence individuals

To be successful in influencing and negotiating you must put your head into the other persons head and understand everything from their perspective. The fact you think something is a good idea will not necessarily mean that somebody else thinks it is. For example, you might you might think your advice is the most sensible way to manage risk, while its recipient regards you as a spoilsport who is preventing him, as an entrepreneurial creative genius, taking advantage of a unique opportunity, that will make the organisation millions.

To prepare for this, you need to have a personal long-term strategy. People are influenced by those they respect, who have knowledge, who have experience, who have expertise and those they like. You will need to have promoted yourself and your ‘brand’ and be recognised in the organisation, before you can influence. Promoting people’s perception of you is achieved through a long-term investment into building relationships, with no ulterior motive other than to get to know people, departments and the organisation better, and demonstrating how helpful you are.

To influence effectively you need to research and appreciate those factors which are important to the organisation. In-house lawyers are no longer isolated in a silo, buried deep in the legal department. In order to have authority, you need to understand the strategy, objectives, priorities, and requirements of the organisation. You need to know about the markets, the competition, the industry and the culture of the sector that the organisation works in, and to understand the political and economic pressures.

Within this context, you need to be fully up-to-date with the legal, regulatory and legislative activities and the current and future implications for the stakeholders you are influencing and their interests and powerbase.

At the core of your understanding is the individual that you want to influence. Whenever you are trying to influence somebody, the key question they will be asking themselves will be W.I.I.F.M? (What’s In It For Me?) You need to be able to identify for them the benefits of what you are asking them to do or what you are telling them they cannot do.

Converting facts to relevant benefits

It is important to appreciate the difference between facts and benefits. You can turn a fact into a benefit with the phrase ‘… which means that you…’.

For example you are told, ‘This car tyre has 2mm tread depth.’ To which fact you might reply, ‘So what?’ The response is a benefit, ‘Which means that you know that you will be able to take sharp corners safely without skidding.’

Individuals have different perception of benefits according to their role in the organisation and their character. You need to analyse their organisational position: such as their power base, their seniority, their responsibilities and their role. You also need to analyse their personality, for example, their ambition, their attitude to figures, their attitude to detail, their attitude to risk and their need to be liked.

‘Hot buttons’

When you have completed this analysis you will be able to press somebody’s ‘Hot Button’ in order to influence them, recognising that every individual has different hot buttons. So that if you want to influence the CEO, you might phrase your advice in terms of reputation, for example ‘… which would enhance the reputation of our organisation for reliability and consistency.’

Or, if you are trying to influence the head of Human Resources, perhaps you would phrase what you are doing in terms of benefits, ‘… which would increase the likelihood of attracting higher calibre staff and retaining them for longer.’ If you are talking to the finance director about a proposal you have, you might phrase that in terms of ‘… which would increase our profits.’ Or ‘… which would reduce our costs…’.

You must prepare for resistance. Learn to relish it. Questions and objections indicate interest. The more capable you are of giving reasonable answers then the more likely people will do what you want. You will not persuade them, they persuade themselves, using your arguments. To influence successfully, you will need to write down the likely objections you will receive and practise answers which will appeal to the individual that you are trying to influence.

From influencing to negotiations: preparation on your case

Much of the preparation required for influencing people forms the basis of successful negotiations.

You need to analyse the context in which this negotiation is taking place, keeping in the forefront of your mind, the bigger picture and the core objectives.

In more detail, you need to prepare all the negotiables that you are able to use. You need to consider what the negotiables are, the minimum that you will accept, which is the walk away price or value; a realistic compromise and the ideal maximum. This needs to be recorded in detail.

Preparation on the other side

Look at the negotiation totally from the point of view of the other side, and go through the same checklist for them as you are doing for yourself. It is only by totally understanding the other side’s perspective that you will be able to negotiate effectively, because you will be able to analyse and evaluate their approach and reactions as the negotiations proceed.

Put a value on your negotiables

Here is a table that will help you to record these: prepare two separate tables - one for you and one for the other side. Here I’ve used the example of buying a car to illustrate how it can work.

NumberNegotiables on product/service include: 1. Facts about the product or service itself2. Delivery of product or service3. Payment + insurance terms4. ‘Added value’ offersMinimum - ‘walk away’ number, whether price, volume, quantitySatisfactory compromise (beware of ‘splitting the difference’)Wonderful to achieve maximum
1 Soft-top Not that important to you Sunshine roof Yes
2 Road-tax paid by seller 3 months 6 months 12 months
3 Delivered to your house Essential No compromise Yes

For example, if you are negotiating fees with external law firms, the range of negotiables could include: hourly rates; speed of payment; retainer; and volume discount. Additional negotiables might be those ‘added value’ benefits such as secondment; training; newsletters; reporting meetings; extranet and seminars.

You then need to plan your strategy, approach and behaviour of each member of your negotiating team; how you will open the negotiation; the likely responses that you are going to receive and your own response to these. You need to adhere to your negotiables; meet your deadlines and know what authority you have on each deadline and negotiable.

Five key skills required for good negotiations:

  1. Ask open questions. There are seven types of open questions: 5 - Wh and 2 - H. Open questions give you information: Who, Why, Where, When, What, How and How much? Try to encourage the other side to put forward all their demands first. By obtaining as much information as possible from the other side on their position, you are able to evaluate their upper and lower negotiating points without giving away anything on yours.
  2. Listen - with eyes and ears. You need to listen to the content of all the answers that you receive to your questions, but you also need to listen with your eyes by observing the body language of the other parties. For example, lack of eye contact, scratching nose, cheek or neck, may indicate discomfort. Arm crossing, leg crossing and turning away may indicate resistance.
  3. Develop the skills of an actor. For example, look stunned and sceptical at a reasonable statement by the other side, which can be off-putting to them. ‘You can’t be serious.’
  4. Never underestimate anybody. This is particularly so when somebody appears to be weak, have no power, say they need to go back to the boss. This is a negotiating technique - be warned!
  5. Be aware of priorities. Know when it is important to keep negotiating a point or when you should leave that discussion because you are at an impasse.

Watch out for techniques used on you (but you can use these on other people)

  1. The other side makes a disproportionately high or low opening offer, to unnerve you.
  2. The other side tries to negotiate on one point, hoping that you will not recognise that it affects other negotiables. This is particularly so in contracts negotiation, where if you negotiate on one clause it may affect values and aspects of other clauses in the document.
  3. Saying one thing and meaning another for example, ‘That is my final offer’ which may mean that, ‘We are still open to negotiation’; ‘That is our standard contract’ which often means that ‘I am prepared to negotiate.’ ‘I need to consult my boss’ which means, ‘I need thinking time.’ ‘We need an answer now. We cannot wait.’ Meaning ‘Let’s see if I can push them into making a hasty decision - to my benefit.’

Evaluation and application in future

The aim of a good negotiation, which will build and maintain enduring relationships, is that everybody believes that they have achieved the best deal they could.

Evaluate all your influencing meetings and your negotiations. Look at your SMART targets and evaluate the extent to which you met them. Records all the lessons you learned and apply them to your next influencing session and negotiation meeting.