by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | March 01, 2008

Of all the cliches in our industry, “win-win situation” is royalty. But frankly, I’m tired of going to negotiating sessions and hearing “this needs to be a win-win situation.” This is a lie, a misrepresentation, a falsehood; such results just don’t happen when hammering out contract details.

Perhaps noting that this concept was based on a premise put forth by a child psychologist about how parents and children should relate to each other explains why the idea just might not work for the meetings world.

The real purpose of negotiation is to reach a satisfactory outcome for both sides, even though each might need to compromise a bit. The concept of a good negotiation is to achieve a “partnership” -- which means the parties will share risk and reward as a result and do not have false expectations that everything will be rosy along the road.

A Common Goal

When planners and hoteliers -- or any other suppliers -- sit down together, they need to come to the table knowing their own needs, wants and interests. The aim, then, is to achieve an understanding of the needs, wants and interests of the other side. By doing this we can accomplish much more in our negotiating process.

Needs are those items that you absolutely, positively must have when you sign the agreement; otherwise there is no sense in you or I sitting down and trying to negotiate. You might require a certain date, an appropriate rate and block; you might require a certain number of breakout rooms, without which you might as well not hold your meeting.

Wants are those things that are necessary or very desirable but allow you some flexibility in negotiating. For example, it might be nice to have a 24-hour hold on a particular ballroom because of your space needs; however, maybe you don’t have to have it on a certain day, or there might be an alternative space you can use in case the ballroom becomes unavailable.

Interests, however, are those add-ons that would be nice to have, but your meeting will still go ahead if you don’t get them. These are the giveaways that can be used as negotiating chips.

One of the basic negotiating rules: Never give up something without getting something in return. This is the quid pro quo. Sometimes it is best to give away an item on your “interests” list in order to get something else from your “wants” column.

Have Faith

Another important element in the process of negotiating to a successful partnership is to establish a sense of trust and understanding between the parties.

Remember, you are starting from the basics: Everything you need, the other party has. If you are a planner, you need rooms. If you are a hotel, you need to fill rooms. As you feel each other out, seeking to establish that partnership, being straightforward and dealing honestly with each other goes a long way toward building a strong relationship. You should recognize, however, that there will be risk attached to obtaining the desired rewards.

Building and maintaining sound business partnerships will do much to wean you from any concept that you need a “win-win” outcome. Rather, your efforts should establish to the fullest extent possible a road map to an outstanding event.

It never ceases to amaze me how planners will go forward with a project without first finding out what the event is to accomplish. The old cliche applies: “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter where you end up.” Good partnerships require the knowledge of what needs to be achieved.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.,is a senior partner in the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at