don’t mind the gap, master it

26/03/2018 - By Ellen Onkelinx - Founder master the gap®

From Belgium to the US, London & back

The master the gap story started when I was in the London metro and I was hearing the typical “mind the gap, please” warning, over and over again.

I had just taken several courses in negotiation and mediation at Harvard Law School, and I was planning to start my own business in negotiation, mediation and lobbying. Concepts like value creation, active listening, problem solving and dispute resolution were constantly on my mind.

Envisioning a situation of conflicting interests, I thought: “you don’t have to mind the gap, you have to master it”. master the gap was born.

Going up & down & up again

Having practiced intellectual property law, the first thing I did, after securing the domain names, was filing master the gap as a European trademark. I felt exhilarated when the European Trademark Office decided a few months later that my trademark met all the requirements and published it.

I was ready to go, but only a few days later, I received a cease and desist letter from a large multinational claiming that my trademark was confusingly similar to theirs. They demanded I immediately withdraw the trademark and cease any further use of the master the gap name.

This was not going as I had planned, but I quickly pulled myself together. After several months of negotiating, we managed to reach a deal: I was able to keep the master the gap trademark and name. master the gap was ready for “take two”.

4 things to remember

Here are 4 things I learned from my negotiations:

The road to success is never easy

The road to succes

When confronted with a setback, you always have the choice to either accept it or fight it.

The first thing I did when receiving the cease & desist letter was curse, the second was gear up for action.

Remember, despite what most people believe, the road to success is never easy.

David & Goliath can strike a deal

David & Goliath

Even though your negotiation position might, at first sight, seem much weaker than your counterparty’s, never just throw in the towel.

Try to strengthen your negotiation power by doing research and by looking for alternatives.

  • First, I researched European trademark law and found out that the similarity between our trademarks and the likelihood of confusion on the part of the public were questionable. Then, I made a list of all the European trademarks that were similar to mine and that had actually been registered. I became convinced that there was room for my trademark and theirs to co-exist.
  • Also look for possible weak spots in the other party’s negotiation position. In my case, I verified all trademarks owned by the multinational to see whether some of them could be challenged in cancellation proceedings.

Remember, a great part of your power lies in your preparation. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” (Benjamin Franklin).

Change the game if needed

Change the game

During negotiations you might feel pushed in a certain direction by your counterparty.

Appreciate the strategy behind their approach and at the same time continue to take the lead and follow your own path. Be firm and persistent in your approach and refuse to be pressured.

During our negotiations, the multinational, even at the very last-minute, made several demands I knew I could not meet. I prepared myself for plan B and tried to put myself in their shoes. Then I suggested alternatives that were acceptable to me and, at the same time, seemed to meet their interests too. In the end we were able to find a solution we could both support.

Remember, figuring out the real interests of your counterparty can be very valuable. And it is never too late to change the game.

Stay positive and keep on believing

Be positive

Of course there can be moments when you doubt yourself or you fear it will be impossible to find a common ground.

Stay positive, keep on believing and if needed give yourself a stimulating and appraising pep talk. Research has shown that this helps people to feel excited and adopt a problem-solving and opportunity driven mindset, which improves both the performance and the results.

And remember, do not mind the gap, but master it. There is a solution to every problem.

If you want to learn more about negotiation, visit the master the gap website.

master the gap