Settlement negotiations with insurance companies are not debates. Unlike lawsuits, which can be very adversarial with a lot of different disputes or conflicts, the goal of settlement negotiations is to come together to reach an agreement both sides approve. This requires a different set of skills.
What is a settlement?
A settlement is typically a written agreement that resolves a legal dispute. Usually, the terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. This means that everything both sides talked about during the settlement negotiations leading up to the agreement are confidential and cannot be discussed with anyone else after the settlement agreement is signed an enforceable contract. In some cases, talking about a settlement after the agreement is executed is considered a breach of contract.
While settling a case is not always an option, it can be the less expensive option. Settlement is often cheaper than going to trial, and also save an injured claimant the time and stress of having to stand before a judge and jury.
Each skilled negotiator has his or her own style when they approach a case. A negotiator’s approach and methods often have to be flexible enough to handle multiple types of insurance adjusters. Some insurance adjusters try to work hand in hand with the injured claimant, especially when the liability in a case is clear. Other insurance adjusters try to play hard ball, and act as a wall or barrier to a case’s resolution. Whatever the case, there are some general negotiation tips that can help personal injury lawyers succeed in reaching an agreement for their client’s benefit.
Positive attitude and body language
Several scientific studies have shown that body language and tone of voice play as important a role in communication as the actual words said. In some cases, nonverbal communication plays an even more important role. In one study, effective communication was found to be 55 percent body language, 38 percent the tone of voice and the actual, express words used only made up 7 percent of communication. Put simply, it is important for negotiators to effectively communicate using their body language, tone of voice and their actual word choice.
Having the right attitude can communicate to the insurance company representative and others that the negotiator is there to reach an agreement, not fight over irrelevant problems. Naturally, if the insurance company is unwilling to work with the injured claimant at all, this calls for an alternate method. But if the negotiator is able to persuade the other side to work with him or her, this can result in a better overall outcome for the client and injured claimant.
For example, eye contact may make the other person feel like the negotiator is giving them his or her undivided attention and worth his or her time and respect. They have all of your attention. Avoiding eye contact may make the other side think you are suspicious and should not be trusted, or nervous and not confident about your case.
Another thing to consider is appearance. It is also a kind of nonverbal communication. Showing up in professional clothing can reflect that your professionalism.
Be a good listener
In addition to outwardly putting forward the right attitude and reasons for settlement, it is important for a negotiator to be observant. Be a good listener. This can help a negotiator understand the information he or she does not already have. The side of the injured claimant already knows their side of the story and the facts seen through their point of view. The information still needed is in the other side’s possession, and often the only way to get it is by paying attention and listening.
This takes discipline, focus and hard work since it is easy to be distracted by other things going on in the background. Observation and listening is so important that sometimes, attorney teams bring two attorneys to trial so that while one attorney is presenting and arguing, the other attorney is paying attention to everything else going on.
Some quick tips and negotiation techniques to help with this skill include:
- Paying attention to the other side’s tone of voice, body language and facial expressions,
- Examining the statements made by the other side,
- Asking questions when something is not clear,
- Asking questions to draw focus, or attention, back to the issue you want to talk about,
- Predicting and anticipating what the other side will say next.
Being a good listener also shows the other side that the negotiator cares. When someone thinks the negotiator is paying attention to them, they think that what they have to say is important and that this worth the negotiator’s time. It may help build a relationship with the other side. If possible, sometimes it is possible to have the other side relate to the injured claimant and empathize. For example, one question that can be asked is “If you were in my shoes, would you give me what you’re asking for?” It is just as important to understand the other side’s point of view as it is to be understood.
Reaching an agreement with the other side requires understanding what it is that they really want. The goal of settlement negotiation to find a resolution and compromise. It is easier to agree with someone who is respectful and positive, rather than someone who is angry, unnecessarily aggressive or simply disrespectful. If the other side is being difficult, another option is to let the person say everything they need to so that it is easier to move on after they run out of steam.
Silence also can tell you a lot. Another consideration is everything that the other side is not saying. A person may be omitting key facts or words, and if the negotiator knows the case well, he or she may be able to pick up on the things they quickly pass over while speaking. Then, the negotiator may be able to follow up by asking for more information afterwards.
Avoiding technical or industry terms
Depending on who the negotiator is talking to, the listener may become frustrated if the negotiator uses words that only people working in the insurance industry or the law can understand. It may even seem like the negotiator is looking down on the other person by trying to use words, abbreviations or terminology the other person cannot understand.
When a person is injured in a truck accident or car accident, emotions can run high. Sometimes, the injured claimant is severely hurt, suffers from psychological trauma, has to deal with lost wages from being unable to work or even the death and injuries of a loved one. Many personal injury lawyers choose to fight for injured claimants because they sympathize with their struggles. While insurance company employees handle countless claims as just another part of their job, the injured claimant’s life is directly affected. This can make it difficult to remain objective.
For others, their pride can be hurt during the negotiation process and make it hard to be objective when it is time to reach an agreement.
Experienced professionals are often trained and practice being objective. Still, almost everyone brings their own life experiences and perspectives to the table. This means it is important to be aware of any personal tendencies, biases or assumptions that can be made and hurt a negotiator’s objectivity.
While still being flexible, negotiators have to know the order of their arguments and points ahead of time. This means being prepared and organized. The order of the arguments should be the sequence that brings about the biggest impact and best result. This can be a kind of blueprint that the negotiator can follow.
Not only is this more professional than preparing something last minute, or showing up without a clear plan, this shows the other side that the negotiator thought this negotiation was important and worth his or her time. It can be impressive to be knowledgeable, prepared and ready to go.
For example, some negotiators choose to open discussions with friendly small talk to open up and begin negotiations on a positive note. It may also be worth noting knowing how the other person likes to be addressed. Some people prefer to be addressed formally, while others are put at ease and feel more comfortable when using only first names, or even a nickname.
There are many skills that experienced personal injury attorneys have expertly used to help their clients win and collect settlement awards.
Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer
Without experience in the insurance industry or legal experience, understanding which factors or evidence can help or hurt your case can be difficult to understand.
Are you trying to secure your financial recovery with the help of experienced attorneys? If so, we can help.
The Pusch & Nguyen Law Firm has helped countless Texans handle their insurance disputes. Our experienced trial lawyers have gone up against some of the biggest names in the insurance industry while successfully bringing home payouts for clients. Our successful reputation speaks for itself, and with offices in both Houston and San Antonio, we are well equipped to assist Texans who are in dire need of our services. Register online for a free case evaluation or call us today at 713-524-8139 (Houston) or 210-702-3000 to schedule an appointment with a member of our team.