Moving to a Different Table

By James K. Sebenius — on / Business Negotiations

Adapted from “Negotiating in Three Dimensions” by James K. Sebenius for the January 2004 issue of the Negotiation newsletter.

When a negotiation reaches an impasse (or, preferably, sooner), it’s important to consider that you may be at the wrong table.

What other individuals or groups might be able to break the deadlock? Perhaps you should be talking to them instead.

The technology company erred in negotiating exclusively with potential buyers in “Setting the Wrong Table.”

Early in the process, managers should have recognized the need for a 3-D move away from the customer table.

Specifically, they needed to look for different negotiating partners – such as the politicians and regulators who were setting up the EPA’s new standards.

What if the company had persuaded the government to mandate the higher level of compliance captured by its device?

After all, the device was more accurate, less expensive, and easier to install than existing products.

If successful, this negotiation would have resulted in lower compliance costs and better environmental results for all. Had the government been induced to require the use of the “best available” or “best feasible” technology on these storage tanks, the firm would have had the upper hand in an endless string of negotiations.

The very sensible deal would have been the powerful driver of vast sales to industrial customers.

In short: better tactics, at the right table.

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