As the title to this post indicates, subtlety has its place – just not in business negotiations or contracts. This is not to say that people shouldn’t be tactful, courteous and professional in these contexts – of course, they should be. I’m not talking about manners; I’m talking about clarity, precision, directness and transparency – i.e., the things that avoid uncertainty and minimize the risk of disagreement (and litigation).
Occasionally, clients will ask me to word a provision in a contract so that it isn’t as clear or explicit as it might be, so that it’s “less conspicuous,” or in a way so that “later, we can take the position that it meant X. . . .” This is almost always a bad idea. After all, a contract is meant to be a clear and complete expression of the parties’ mutual intent and agreement – trying to “finalize” the deal while simultaneously avoiding clarity and completeness in order to avoid points of disagreement is NOT a recipe for success; to the contrary, it is a recipe for future disputes.
So, what does this mean for your negotiations and contracts? Quite simply, items of potential disagreement should be identified and discussed (and hopefully resolved) early on, just as items on which the parties agree should be discussed. Dispute resolution at the point of negotiation/deal-making and as part of the contractual process is healthy and productive. It generally leads to one of 2 outcomes – either the parties ultimately reach agreement through compromise, concessions, etc., and they move ahead with the deal; or they don’t, and the deal doesn’t get done. Either result is far better than signing a contract or entering into a relationship only to end up in the other kind of dispute resolution – the kind that comes after the contract is signed and involves 2 teams of lawyers, a judge, jury or arbitrator, and words like injunction, breach of contract, damages, and legal fees. Don’t be subtle . . .