When I was little, my family used to take long rides from the suburbs to the city on weekends. I remember the day my sister, Robyn, first introduced me to the Punch Buggy game - which was to become a favorite of hers for occupying time of long car rides (and subtly torture her little sister). "Punch Buggy Red No Punch Backs!" she would yell - upon spotting a little red VW Punch Buggy - while simultaneously jabbing me in the arm with brute force and punishment.
After the initial sucker punch, she would tire and want to play something else. But, there is no focussing on a friendly game of "I spy" when there may be more Punch Buggy cars on the road! I would stare determinedly at the passing cars and wait for my chance to even the score.
There are no take backs in negotiation. Every move invites a reaction and response. Sucker punch your opponent and, be assured, of an equal or greater responsive measure. In other words, a negotiative "punch" always invites a "punch back".
There is a basic rule of the negotiation dance: Like Begets Like. Bad negotiation behaviors (lowball offers, hardball tactics, unfair play) will be met with equally bad negotiation behaviors. Likewise, good negotiation behaviors (reasonable offers, apologies for past wrongs, interest based bargaining) will be rewarded.
Human beings have a primal instinct to restore balance. This is the principal behind reciprocity. A friend buys you coffee, you feel a primal urge to respond in kind on the next coffee date. An offer leaves you with a bruised ego or broken spirit, your counteroffer, too, will likely be an assaultive blow.
One of the benefits of early mediation is that parties come to the negotiation table with very little negotiation baggage to sift through and get past. Later mediation can be more difficult to facilitate because of the principle of 'no take backs'. Parties have good memories and fragile trust sensors. They will not readily accept good faith bargaining after a history of bad faith plots. In other words, how you start matters - and it might make all the difference.Parties and litigators should be cognizant of the harm early aggressive tactics may cause to their strategy for settlement.
Notwithstanding the 'no take back' rule, there may be opportunity for remedial action - when both parties are willing to accept and own their past behaviors. ...it just takes some time, a lot of work...and, if you're lucky, a few less pesky buggies blocking your path to resolution.