Who’s Watching? How Onlookers Affect Team Talks in Business Negotiations

By — on / Business Negotiations

Your boss, turning to you and a coworker near the end of your team’s weekly meeting, says, “So, which one of you wants to present our proposal in San Francisco next week?”

You feel surprised and pleased to have gotten the nod – as well as some discomfort. You’re swamped with other tasks, but succeeding at the plum assignment would raise your profile at the organization.
At the same time, you’re flooded with panic at the thought of negotiating this delicate issue with your coworker in front of your boss and six other colleagues. You believe that some of your teammates are friends and allies, but you suspect that others would side with your colleague.

Similar emotions and concerns are probably dashing through your coworker’s mind. The presence of the audience makes you uncomfortable, and you’re sure this will affect the negotiation – but why, exactly, and how?

When we think of negotiation, we tend to imagine intense dialogues occurring between two people alone together in a room. In reality, many business negotiations take place in front of others: not just customers and clients, but colleagues, subordinates, and superiors. In this article, we focus on workplace negotiations in semipublic team settings.

Whether you’re in the midst of a heated conflict or simply hammering out assignments, onlookers will affect how you negotiate. In particular, two critical factors affect negotiating success in the presence of team members: (1) your ability to assess and manage onlookers of different professional levels and (2) your ability to determine who is an ally and who is an enemy.

The presence of onlookers causes anxiety for many negotiators and poses unexpected challenges. Yet, you can actually use the presence of bystanders to your advantage. By consciously managing your interactions with your counterpart while also monitoring your behavior according to who’s watching, you will gain control over the level of success that you, your partner, and the group as a whole can achieve.

Part 2, How Onlookers Affect Team Talks: Negotiating in Front of Superiors

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