Dos and Don'ts of Negotiating


  • Arrive at meetings early to size up the space. Arrange chairs so you have enough elbow room.
  • Sit where you can keep eye contact with your friends.
  • Go outside and breathe fresh air at every break.
  • Urinate at every break; it's distracting to get up in the middle of the meeting to go to the bathroom.
  • Talk to the "opposition" before and after meetings and during breaks. This gives you a good chance to size them up. Often you can find out more about a person's positions during a break than in several days of meetings.
  • Insist on formal minutes at every meeting, signed by both parties.
  • Insist that agencies begin meetings by disclosing specifically what they intend to do. They may resist this with some vigor. Agencies love to waste meeting time in foreplay only to disclose their true plans in the meeting's final hours.
  • Pin down who the deciding official is, and insist that he or she be present at any local meetings. If, in fact, the District Ranger is not going to be making the final decision, why waste your time talking to him? Insist that higher-level officials be present at any local meetings if they will make the final decisions.
  • Collect everything! Use the process to collect information that would otherwise not be easily available. Often in the course of deliberations the agency will provide maps, spreadsheets and other data. These should be collected. I know of several instances where these informal documents became the basis of lawsuits.
  • Use the process to introduce into the record scientific information that will serve future appeals.
  • Privately ask agency personnel if they think the agency approach is sound. If they say "no" ask for specifics. Many employees will tell you where the bodies are buried, but they'll only do so if you ask. Once I stayed in a meeting room to read a stack of timber sale files while everyone else went to lunch. An agency planner was eating in the same room. I began asking him questions about a particular sale. Finally he said, "Look, there's nothing wrong with that sale." I pushed the stack towards him and said, "Well then, show me the ones that have problems." He did.


  • Eat any pastries or sweets: sugar at 9:00, spacy at 10:00. Eat a light lunch.
  • Sit facing windows.
  • Drink too much coffee, you will get too wired.
  • Let the agency take up the whole time talking and presenting, or do the same thing yourself.
  • Expect scientists to be argumentative in meetings with other scientists; professional courtesy often restrains them. Scientists and professionals often do their best work in writing.
  • Bring people to meetings who can't say no, or take yes for an answer. To represent a point of view in an argument you need to know both what you want and how to make sure the other side understands your position. You can be empathetic with your adversaries, but they must know exactly what you want.
  • Get too friendly with agency staff and their families. This will only cause you problems. Staff are paid representatives of their organizations and if you forget it you will be disappointed.

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©1997 Jim Britell
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