Have you chosen the right counterpart?

By PON Staffon / Business Negotiations, Daily

Adapted from “Reach Your Target with Backward Mapping,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, March 2010.

Here’s the problem: Your negotiation seems to be over before it has begun. Your targeted counterpart is refusing to sit down with you or simply ignoring your requests. How can you get her to see that she would benefit from negotiating with you?

This may be the wrong question to ask, write David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius in their book 3-D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals (Harvard Business School Press, 2006). Instead, start by asking yourself, “Am I dealing with the right person?”

According to Lax and Sebenius, backward mapping is the process of envisioning your preferred outcome and then thinking in reverse about how to achieve it. By mapping backward, you can choose your negotiating partners wisely and approach them in the right order.

Take the case of a small business that is trying to enter a new market. The owner’s first instinct might be to approach venture capitalists (VCs) about possible financing. But on further reflection, he realizes he’d be wiser to approach manufacturers about becoming potential partners in the arrangement. By signing on first with a respected manufacturer, he’s more likely to impress VCs with his business plan and negotiate an agreement. Similarly, suppose you’re a mid-level manager who comes up with an idea that you think will save your firm money. Rather than dropping by the CEO’s office, you might approach one of his trusted advisers in the finance department, sell her on the idea, and then pitch it to the CEO together.

Backward mapping involves the following four steps, according to Lax and Sebenius:
1. Make a map of all the parties who might potentially get involved in your negotiation and think about their interests.
2. Estimate how difficult, costly, and valuable it might be to get each party on board.
3. Identify the patterns of influence and deference among these parties—who listens to whom, who owes something to whom, and so on.
4. After identifying your ultimate target, consider what agreements should be in place to secure her cooperation. With whom must you negotiate before reaching your target negotiator, and how can you win over that person?

Backward mapping can simplify negotiations by allowing you to clear a straight path toward the person who ultimately needs to sign off on your deal. Once you get used to backward mapping, you are likely to find that it saves you time and effort—and helps you avoid running into a wall.