I am a good negotiator. I have good instincts for what is core and cannot be compromised, and what is negotiable or can be given up. I understand needs and recognize motivations, even when they are not articulated or are acting subconsciously. I study human and institutional behavior, and have learned to measure negotiating success both in terms of tangible gains and intangible benefits.
There are times when it is better not to insist on a legal right when it costs your reputation to secure it. It may, in fact, be better not to win every hand and to leave something on the table, because otherwise you may never get another chance to play.
This is a particularly sticky area for locally-based organizations that need to maintain the goodwill of their supporters and of the communities in which they work in order to be effective and viable. Some conservation organizations have gotten into trouble by failing to defend the easements they hold for fear of alienating an important donor or exhausting their limited resources in a protracted legal battle. Others have defended their prerogatives so vigorously that they have turned public opinion against them.
If you know what is core and immutable - and this should not be a long list - it is easier to get beyond positions to actual needs. A landowner insisting on a high price for selling family land for conservation may be motivated by more than financial value, including the emotions involved with being the one who ended up selling the family asset. Seller's remorse is a real factor even for conservation-minded sellers, but this gets missed if all the conservation buyer sees is an inflexible price and a stubborn owner.
I remember a situation when I was with The Nature Conservancy where we had the legal right to enter State conservation lands and apply herbicide to invasive plants over a very wide area. In one community - a community that happened to be 2/3 permanently protected open space - there was strong and vocal opposition to our exercising this right. It was clear that we could have accomplished our conservation objectives for invasive species control if we had insisted on our legal right to spray. It was also clear that our other, greater objectives for working with willing landowners in that town to conserve key parcels of land would be irreparably damaged if we did so. Showing the community that we could be responsive to local desires and sensibilities gave us a wealth of credibility - one of those intangible benefits - even though the invasive species control we were undertaking would fall short of our initial expectations. Ecologically, we would still be on track for managing the resource and abating the invasive threat if we applied the program in other adjacent towns where they were more receptive to herbicide. Once we got away from whether we had the stronger legal case, it allowed us to deescalate a stand-off that threatened our reputation and instead gained us respect with precisely the constituents who were rallying in opposition. To me, that was a winning outcome.
The difference between what is fair in the court of public opinion and what wins in court is sometimes a critical consideration. Sometimes you need to defend your legal rights without compromise. The ability to tell one situation from another makes for good negotiations.