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Play Ball!

This is not about Major League Baseball, even though today is opening day of the 2011 season. However, baseball has been used as a metaphor for, or backdrop to, life in general for most of the last century, at least in U.S. literature and theater. From For Love of the Game to Field of Dreams, from The Chosen to the The Natural, baseball in novels and the movies is part of our national and cultural folklore. Baseball’s lessons and language also permeate mediation and dispute resolution.

The other day, I was engaged in some business negotiations. After presenting our initial proposal, the other party’s attorney said it was not even “in the ballpark” and advised his client to forget about making any deal with us. In effect, he wanted to pick up his ball and look for another game after the first pitch. Recognizing this as a time-worn negotiating tactic, I reminded them that we were only in the first inning and there was plenty of time for both sides to take their turn at the plate. In other words, we wanted to play ball with them. If they would have accepted our initial proposal, we would have been very happy but that was not our entire game plan. After the exchange of a few more proposals, it became apparent what was important to each side and an agreement was reached. All it required was for each side to demonstrate a love of the game and be prepared to “go the distance.”

Very often in mediation and negotiation, we see parties take positions that are seemingly irreconcilable at the outset. If the parties come in with positions that are truly their bottom lines, no agreement or settlement will be possible. Therefore, I recommend that the parties do their research ahead of time, come in with their best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) but be aware of the worst that could happen. And then play ball. After all, it is our national pasttime.

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