Buying Certainty

If you turn on the news (or, as is more likely in today’s world, open up your favorite news website), chances are pretty good one of the first phrases you will notice is “the fiscal cliff.” Whether it’s a discussion of how it’s not really a cliff, or what our various political leaders’ plans for avoiding it may be, the one common theme surrounding it all is uncertainty, and that uncertainty’s effect on our country. In many ways, the uncertainty is worse than any of the potential outcomes – if everyone knew we were headed for a bad result, at least we could all plan for it. A common refrain is that the uncertainty leads to businesses not hiring additional employees, and not investing in capital improvements. What would a little certainty be worth to those businesses right now?

All of the talk about uncertainty reminded me of something that an excellent mediator says at the beginning of every mediation I’ve ever seen him handle – “This is an opportunity for you as businesspeople to control this situation, maybe the last opportunity, before a judge or a jury decides it for you.” Often in the heat of litigation, everyone is concerned with who is right, and who is wrong. And, although there are times where one side is 100% right or 100% wrong, in most cases the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Instead of viewing paying some sum (or taking less than you think you are owed) as admitting that the other side is right, it can help to look at as nothing more than buying a little certainty. The uncertainty of a judge or a jury’s decision – gone. The uncertainty of legal fees and costs to reach a resolution – gone. Finally, the certainty that you are well and truly done with that particular dispute can be priceless. This is not to say that every case should be settled – in many the cost of buying of certainty is too high in comparison to what you are giving up. But considering settlement in terms of buying a little certainty reminds us that settling is, ultimately, more of a business decision as admitting “defeat” in a lawsuit.