The owner of a retirement home was facing a possible lawsuit from a woman whose father lived in the home. The woman had a good case, and if she’d gone to court I think it’s likely she would have prevailed. The owner of the retirement home could have faced a sizable judgment.
But the owner avoided court, and saved himself all of the expense and time that court can cost, by doing something very simple. He acknowledged something that was very important to the woman.
The dispute started when the owner of the retirement home – I’ll call him Maximilian – sold the retirement home to an investment group. The investment group had given the residents notice that they would be raising the rents substantially. At the same time, Maximilian had given the residents notice that he’d be reducing the services offered to them.
The retirement home had a standard lease that included provisions for changing the services offered to the residents. Unfortunately, Maximilian didn’t adhere to all of the provisions of the standard lease. In particular, he didn’t give enough notice about the reduction of services. He was supposed to give 30 days notice if he was reducing services, but he only gave 15 days notice that transportation services would be ending.
The woman whose father lived in the retirement home – I’ll call her Anna – was angry that the rents were going up so much. Her father would have to move out of the place he’d lived in for many years, in a lovely location, with neighbors he liked. She was also angry that that her father wouldn’t have the transportation service he needed.
When they came to mediation, Maximilian saw the dispute as purely a business dispute. He’d bought the retirement home as an investment, and he’d wanted to sell. He had the right to reduce services, he pointed out; and he noted that most of the services were being reduced according to the terms of the lease (an argument I doubt a judge would’ve found persuasive).
For Anna, the dispute wasn’t just business. The dispute was about her father. She loved him, and she wanted him to have a good place to live.
Maximilian and Anna weren’t making any progress towards a resolution. Then Maximilian did something important. He acknowledged to Anna how much she cared about her father and how he’d enjoyed his conversations with her father when he was at the retirement home.
As soon as he said that, Anna brightened up. She felt heard and acknowledged. After just a little more negotiation, she accepted the offer that Maximilian offered.
When Maximilian acknowledged what was so important to Anna, when he let her know that he saw the human side of the issue for her, he made it easier for Anna to accept the settlement he offered. It was a reasonable offer, but she wouldn’t have accepted it otherwise.
For himself, Maximilian avoided all of the expense and time that court could have cost him, not to mention a possible judgment against his business.
If you’re ever in a dispute that you see as purely a business dispute, but the other party doesn’t accept your offer of settlement, or doesn’t seem interested in settling at all, ask yourself if the other party sees the dispute as something other than business. Find a way to acknowledge the human, personal needs that the other party has. Get a good resolution of the dispute and avoid the expense and time that court will cost you.