How often have you heard that, when entering a negotiation, you should get your allies onboard first? Conventional wisdom, but not always the best advice. When the United States sought to build a global anti-Iraq coalition following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, for instance, Israel appeared to be its strongest regional ally. Yet because Israel’s formal membership might have kept numerous Arab states from joining the coalition, the U.S. government pointedly excluded the Israelis, starting negotiations elsewhere. Careful sequencing plus tacit Israeli membership avoided a potential setback.
Negotiating Skills and Negotiation Tactics – Approaches to the Negotiation Table
Though often overlooked, sequencing matters greatly in negotiation. Whether you’re trying to get the “right” people to attend a charity event, invest in a new venture, or sign onto a complex deal, you’ll face elaborate sequencing choices. With whom should you speak first? Whom next? Rules of thumb such as “allies first” or “negotiate internally, then externally” are unreliable guides. Yet a more effective approach, the logic of backward mapping, can help you choose your partners wisely—and negotiate in the right order.
Negotiation Strategy – Negotiating Skills and Negotiation Tactics Using Backward Mapping
When you map a negotiation backward, you envision your preferred outcome and think in reverse about how to get there.
Here are the basic steps:
- Draw a “map” of the parties who are currently involved and those who might potentially get onboard, along with their interests and their no-deal options.
- Estimate the difficulty and cost of gaining agreement with each party as well as the value of having that person or group onboard.
- Identify key relationships among the parties: who influences whom, who tends to defer to whom, who owes something to whom, and so on.
- Focus on the most-difficult-to-persuade player—your ultimate target or someone else who’s critical to the deal. Ask these questions: Which prior negotiated agreement or agreements among which set of the other players—if such agreements were in place—would maximize the chances of the target saying yes on your terms? Whom would you like to have onboard when you initiate negotiations with the target?
- Ask analogous questions about the player(s) at this next-to-final stage: Whom would you ideally like to have onboard to maximize the chances of the most difficult player at this stage saying “yes”? How can you win that party over?
Map backward in this fashion until you have found the most promising path through the cloud of possibilities.
To better understand the logic of backward mapping, consider the logic of project management. When deciding how to undertake a complex project, you focus first on your endpoint, then develop a critical path and a timeline by working backward to the present. A successfully completed project is comparable to a value-creating agreement supported by a sustainable coalition.
Related Business Negotiations Article: Get the Sequence Right – The order in which issues and interests are addressed at the negotiation table has a big impact on the course of negotiations. We discuss various negotiation scenarios and how effective sequencing can help bargainers create value and claim value in negotiations.
Adapted from “Mapping Backward: Negotiating in the Right Sequence,” by James K. Sebenius (professor, Harvard Business School), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
Originally published in 2009.