If there is one thing you can count on in negotiation it is that there will be last minute hitches.  As settlement approaches, problems not previously visible become apparent.  Immediately after the parties shake hands, or later when they write the final contract or purchase order, they will suddenly recognize troublesome oversights, risks, and vague understandings not covered at the bargaining table.  Both sides will become apprehensive about things they should have discussed but didn’t.

Why does this happen?  Because, as final agreement comes closer and words are put on paper, the parties find themselves engaged in the specifics of procedure, measurement, and definitions. Words take on different meanings when written rather than spoken. Potential problems become visible.  Issues that appeared to be nailed down are opened to semantic debate.  Dates, discounts, and dollar agreements become subject to “what if” and “who is responsible for” arguments.

Most agreements made at the table require the approval of others.  Everyone in both organizations who has any part in approving the settlement can provide inputs as to how it can be improved.  Engineers suddenly want to tighten the specification, quality control people want to reduce tolerances, lawyers want terms clarified, production people want more time to deliver, and sales management wonders if the lower discount offered was warranted.  Second guessers and “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” abound.

These inputs inundate the negotiators on both sides with problems they must resolve.  The immediate effect is to place the agreement in jeopardy.  Both negotiators find themselves under severe pressure to deal not only with each other, but those in their own company, to resolve these last minute hitches.

Last minute hitches occur in diplomatic affairs as well as business.  Hardly a day goes by in international negotiations when the press does not report that an agreement between this nation and that is imminent.  The next day chaos seems to break loose.  The treaty or trade agreement is reported to be falling apart for what appears to us as minor reasons.  Then, a few days or weeks later, the negotiators meet again, shake hands, and announce that a settlement has been reached.  In diplomacy, as in business, the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are at work criticizing the agreement and trying to improve it.

Negotiators do not, as a rule, welcome last minute hitches.  However, they should be expected by both sides as a normal, and to some extent, a positive part of the bargaining process.

 

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