Ask Alignor

Should I cut to the chase and deal with the difficult issues first?

In short, no, you should not deal with the difficult issues first. Though it may be tempting to see if you can resolve the “deal breakers” up front, it is usually a bad idea because it is less likely you will be able to resolve the tough issues when you try to deal with them first. You are generally better off acknowledging the difficult issues up front, but then spending time exploring options for satisfying the interests that stakeholders have in common. We sometimes call these common interests “low hanging fruit,” which seems to diminish their importance. The reality is, however, that if we spend time up front working through our common interests, we make it more likely that we will resolve the difficult issues when we get to them toward the end of the negotiation process. Why does this occur? Because negotiators are likely to become more invested in finding solutions to the difficult issues when they have already invested time and energy in developing an emerging agreement that focuses on the benefits to each of them from satisfying their common interests. In sum, you should look for ways to “grow the pie” before you argue about how to divide it.

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