Adapted from “Dealing with Backstage Negotiators,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
Negotiated agreements sometimes go off the rails in the final hour because one side caves in to a constituent’s wishes despite having the authority to make a commitment. Because people tend to approach negotiations with an “us versus them” mentality, they may succumb to strong allegiances on their side of the table, even when they’d be better off with the deal at hand. A young man who faces his parents’ disapproval if he buys a particular home may decide the path of least resistance is to call off the deal, even if his feelings about the home haven’t changed. Similarly, a counterpart who works out a collaborative agreement might later back out if he faces criticism for not being “tough” enough.
If you think your counterpart could be susceptible to this type of psychological pressure, you might be able to reduce its influence by forging a bond across the table. How? When preparing to negotiate, tell the other party that if you are able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, you will fight for it in the face of opposition from your constituents. Then, ask her if she can make the same promise.
In his chapter “Bargaining in the Shadow of the Tribe” in The Negotiator’s Fieldbook (American Bar Association, 2006), negotiation and mediation expert John H. Wade suggests that in some negotiation contexts, parties might agree verbally or in writing to the following statement: “We will unanimously and enthusiastically recommend the outcome we reach as satisfactory, workable, and the best option available. We will endeavor to ‘sell’ the outcome to our constituents.” This type of “psychological contract” can go a long way toward motivating negotiators to work hard together-and then proudly stand by the fruits of their labor.