When multiple parties enter into negotiation, someone has to oversee the group’s efforts, or the process will descend into chaos or stalemate.
A negotiation manager should prepare the group’s agenda, establish ground rules, assign research tasks, summarize conclusions, and represent the process to the outside world.
Negotiation Tactics for Countering Bias
It’s too much to expect that any interested party can juggle these tasks without bias.
If one side tries to assume the role of chair, others may view the move as a power grab. And in multiparty negotiations, process opportunism – the possibility that a manager or faction will wrest control of the agenda – is a constant threat.
Right from the start, whether talks are being held within one organization or among many, participants in a multiparty negotiation may want to enlist a trained neutral – a professional facilitator or mediator.
It may seem premature to bring in a mediator before a dispute has even erupted, but the fact is a neutral party can guide participants into the trading zone much more effectively than they can on their own.
- Neutrals can be particularly helpful in the information gathering stage.
Through a process of joint-fact finding, the leader can help parties generate data and forecasts that everyone can accept.
As the size of the negotiation increases, group management becomes a challenge. One factor is the phenomenon known as groupthink, a term coined by psychologist Irving Janis.
When people work together, sometimes their wish for unanimity overrides their commitment to weigh all possible alternatives and hampers their decision-making ability. In their desire to get along, coalitions begin to accept irrational solutions to their shared problems.
- For this reason, negotiators in multiparty situations need to remain in close contact with their constituents – senior members of the organization to whom they are accountable
- Otherwise, the pressure to conform may cause them to lose touch with the interests of those they represent.
When multiple parties are balancing dozens of issues and preferences, it makes sense to break into smaller working groups.
- For example, when a federal agency opens up a dialogue on proposed regulatory reforms, a variety of stakeholders join the conversation, from corporations to politicians to activists.
In such cases, subgroups must be sure to link their findings to the group’s larger goals and communicate them in a way that’s understandable to all.
Which tactics have helped you manage relationships at the bargaining table? Leave us a comment.
Adapted from “Winning and Blocking Coalitions” by Lawrence Susskind, Negotiation, January 2004.