In dealmaking with a potential customer, a new salesperson leaves the room several times to make phone calls. Each time when she returns, she tells the customer she can’t accept the terms they just negotiated. Exasperated by her apparent lack of authority, the customer ends the meeting abruptly.
As this poor dealmaking scenario shows, your counterpart’s constituents are bound to play a role in negotiations, whether you realize it or not. When the other side negotiates on behalf of an organization, his superiors and coworkers have a stake in the outcome. In more personal negotiations, his friends or family members may attempt to sway his choices.
The same is true of your constituents in dealmaking. Yet negotiators often are surprised to discover the strength of the opinions, advice, and directives their counterparts face from others. By anticipating the role of these shadowy outsiders in negotiation, you can plan to manage their influence.
As part of your preparation for a particular negotiation, think about how much authority our counterpart might have to make decisions. Whom does she report to? With whom might she consult before making a decision? When negotiating on the job, you can assume the other party’s boss will need to sign off on your agreement. Will she also have to check in with her boss periodically on key issues? Is she part of a team that must sign off on a deal, whether formally or informally? In some cases, such as an unemployment negotiation, the person’s spouse, children, or parents may play a strong backstage role.
If you think a third party could slow down your negotiation or scuttle a deal at the last minute, what should you do? 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 outlines a number of possibilities. First, if an outsider’s influence seems likely to be destructive, you might decide to pass on the negotiation altogether and find a partner who has more autonomy, especially if you are on a deadline.
Second, you might ask you counterpart if he’d like to include any of these interested parties in negotiation. This option is often impractical or undesirable; you counterpart probably doesn’t want his boss at the table, for instance. Yet because interested parties often have legitimate concerns, bringing them to the table may actually enhance your negotiation. If you would each be representing a team, for example, it might make sense to switch from one-on-one to team negotiations. Or if a prospective employee would be moving her family across the country, her husband might appreciate being included in discussions about company benefits and the job market in the new community.
Adapted from “Dealing with Backstage Negotiators,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, February 2010.