Category Archives: Negotiation

Negotiation advice from a 90 year old river guide

In the November 2008 issue of Arizona Highways there is an article about Martin Litton, age 90, who is a river guide in the Grand Canyon and has been rowing the river for over fifty years. He is an uncompromising environmentalist and I was struck by the wisdom of his unyielding position on the subject. The article relates that in 1985 he was waiting to speak to a group of river guides on an enviormental issue in Arizona. Former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt spoke in front of him, urging all sides to work "in a spirit of compromise." When it was Litton’s turn to speak he bellowed into the microphone: "Did he just say compromise? How the hell do you think that we ended up with Glen Canyon dam in the first place? We compromised!"

Litton says, in the article, "never ask for what’s reasonable, only for what’s right." He explains:

"If you start off with a willingness to compromise, you’ve given up, you’ve lost. Even though the final result, in most cases is a compromise, it’s a compromise that was reached between two sides, each of which was adamant and was not going to give in. It was once said in a Sierra Club publication that the only way we’d ever accomplish anything was through compromise and accomodation. That’s exactly the opposite of the truth. The only way the Sierra Club ever won anything was by refusing to compromise – Grand Canyon dams, Redwood National Park – you can go right back through the whole list. When we compromised, we lost."

I identify completely with his attitude when it is applied to negotiation in legal matters. I agree that if we approach negotiation for settlement or trial with an attitude "of spirit of compromise" we have already lost. In doing so, we approach the matter from a position of weakness and our results will reflect that fact. Refusal to yield or an iron willed stubboness in the face of everything is not the same thing as approaching a contested issue with the attitude of being firm about the righteousness of your position. We should be both strong and courageous when we are right. I believe Litton’s advice applies to trial lawyers.