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Relationship is a crucial component of negotiation.  Our relationship with the other party in a negotiation will have a strong influence on the outcome.  A well-known tenet of fundraising, which is a type of negotiation, is that people give money to people, not organizations; development professionals know well the importance of relationship in procuring philanthropic gifts. Furthermore, the very act of coming to agreement with someone creates and amplifies a relationship.

But relationship can work against us if we let it get in the way of common sense.  Sometimes we think that because we have such a good relationship with someone, we can skip some steps.  But in any negotiation, regardless of how good the relationship may be, it’s important to discuss all the issues. Don’t assume that the other party is in agreement with something, unless you have discussed it.  It’s better to bring everything out now than find out later that there is a point of disagreement that you failed to address, because you thought any reasonable person – and for sure someone with whom you have such a good relationship – would see it the same way you do.  In the moment of agreement, with the high fives, the clicking of champagne glasses and other acts of celebration, it’s important not to let the emotion and euphoria of coming to agreement cloud your thinking.  Everything is always fine…until it isn’t.

As important as it is to put all the issues on the table during negotiation, it’s equally important to document the final agreement carefully.  Don’t leave anything out, assuming that “we’ll remember that.”  People forget, people interpret things differently and people leave organizations to go work somewhere else.  In Robert Frost’s poem, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, he reminds us that the purpose of fences is not to settle disputes, but to avoid them; you put the fence up before a problem arises with your neighborSimilarly, written agreements and contracts – even if nothing more than an email confirming the agreement – serve to avoid the eruption of disputes later on, and foster a good relationship with the other party for the future.
To paraphrase the beloved poet, Robert Frost, “Good agreements make good relationships.”
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