Many of us know the feeling of being frustrated by a superior’s involvement in our business negotiation strategies, whether because she hovers too closely over the talks, contradicts our carefully crafted strategy, or doesn’t give us the authority we need to sign off.
Turning to current negotiations in the news, consider what happened when North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ambassadors, representing 29 North American and European nations, were negotiating a new national-security declaration in Brussels in July 2018. At the request of U.S. security adviser John Bolton, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg asked the ambassadors to break with tradition by finalizing an agreement before the meetings rather than during them, the New York Times reports. Why? Bolton wanted to minimize the odds that his boss, U.S. president Donald Trump, would jeopardize the deal upon his arrival in Brussels—and perhaps disrupt the NATO alliance.
The ambassadors quickly tied up the loose ends on an unusually bold declaration that reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, in defiance of Russia as well as Trump’s anti-NATO tweets and statements. When Trump arrived, he issued a vague threat of withdrawing the United States from NATO, but the declaration was approved as negotiated.
When negotiating on behalf of our organization, directly undermining our boss is rarely a wise strategy. That’s why it’s important to negotiate your authority, your boss’s role, and your intended business negotiation strategies before you get to the bargaining table. The following three business negotiation solutions will help you meet this goal.
Negotiate Your Mandate.
When negotiating on behalf of our organization, get off on the right foot by securing a strong mandate from superiors. “Whether formal or informal, your mandate sets forth what you are allowed to do—that is, what kinds of deals you may explore and perhaps tentatively agree to,” writes Tufts University professor Jeswald Salacuse in his book Negotiating Life: Secrets for Everyday Diplomacy and Deal Making (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
To secure your mandate, conduct in-depth internal negotiations with your boss and other key leaders, such as department heads. Talk to anyone who would need to sign off on an agreement as well as potential deal blockers. Impress on them the value of giving you leeway to try different business negotiation strategies at the bargaining table.
Maintain Your Autonomy.
During the process of business negotiation, you should inform your superiors of your relative progress as needed. Assuming that you and your team have the negotiation under control, aim to keep your boss away from the negotiating table. Why? Your boss’s presence is likely to convey that you have limited authority or ability to negotiate a deal, according to Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School professor Guhan Subramanian.
Moreover, once your boss gets involved, it may be difficult to extricate him from the negotiation, leaving you and your carefully planned business negotiation strategies on the sidelines. The presence of the “big boss” also may signal to your counterpart that your organization is desperate to reach a deal. One negotiator warned a top leader in the organization that if he showed up at the table, the other side would immediately add $50 million to its aspiration price, according to Subramanian.
When you’re ready to finalize a mutually beneficial deal, there’s nothing wrong with bringing the head honchos to the table to boost rapport and goodwill for the implementation stage. But involving your boss too early can put you in a one-down position.
Leverage Leaders’ Involvement Strategically.
What if you are at an impasse and have tried everything? You might suggest to your counterpart that you get your bosses to try to sort things out on their own. Because your counterpart is likely to be averse to signaling to his boss that he needs help, this escalation move might motivate him to soften his demands without the need to involve your superiors.
What if you have a well-meaning boss whose feedback and interference are getting in the way of creating value in negotiation and could even sabotage talks? Rather than getting angry or criticizing, offer suggestions on business negotiation strategies and allow your boss to take ownership of them. Then continue to keep your boss in the loop throughout the process, bringing her to the table only after you’ve exhausted all other options, recommends Subramanian.
What other business negotiation strategies would you recommend for managing leaders’ involvement?