I’ve heard that statement many times in mediation and so have you. What does it mean and how should you react?
At a recent mediation, defense counsel in private caucus after exchanging several proposals, said that’s our bottom line and presented a final figure of $20,000. Plaintiff’s last figure was $40,000, but I knew from talking with plaintiff that they wanted to get the case settled and would be more flexible, but that $20,000 was not going to do it. I also thought, but did not know, that the defense would pay additional funds to get the case settled. So, I kept working the mediation process, exploring what came next if we stopped and kept folks talking. About 45 minutes later, the case settled for $27,500.
Thus, my approach is to accept the “bottom line” statement as a beginning point rather than the end. I’ve come to this conclusion after hearing the phrase and then, as noted above, folks are willing to pay more or accept less to settle the case. Thus, as many statements in a mediated negotiation, the mediator must take all with an open mind.
My point to you as mediator is to keep exploring options even when people make this statement. If you are the advocate, rethink your use of this statement because if you say “bottom line” and don’t really mean it, but the mediator believes you, then you are done and the mediation will stop. Find another way to firmly state your proposal without closing the door to further discussion. Of course, there does come a time when you are done – when you’ve made your best proposal – and that’s fine. I usually find this point after exploring a proposal three times and being told no. That means folks are truly at their bottom line.
I once heard a mediator describe “bottom line” as a line in the sand of a desert. It’s there and it’s real and then a wind can come up and blow it away.