A few years ago, Stephen B. Goldberg was asked to serve as a facilitator for and adviser to a corporate team from a telecommunications firm that was preparing to negotiate with five other telecom companies on the division of radio spectrum for cellular telephone relay satellites.
If agreement was reached, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would likely implement that agreement as a federal regulation; if no agreement were reached, the FCC would itself determine the appropriate spectrum division.
Reaching agreement promised to be difficult, as there was insufficient spectrum for each company to have as much as it needed – or claimed to need.
The negotiation team was headed by a VP of operations and included representatives from the company’s engineering department (which had designed a new technology that would be used for satellite signal transmission), the operations department (charged with implementing the new system), the government relations department (because of the FCC’s involvement), the finance department (financing details would be crucial), and the legal department (responsible for preparing written versions of all proposals and agreements).
All team members were knowledgeable about the cellphone industry, and some were experts on satellite transmission. Stephen Goldberg knew little of the former and nothing of the latter, and was concerned about how much he could contribute to the team’s success.
As the internal negotiations progressed, however, Goldberg discovered that he could perform a valuable function for the team.
Consider that the members came to the table representing their departments, all sought to ensure that their respective department’s positions were included in the corporate negotiating position, and all were determined to defend their positions both withing the company and in external negotiations.
Each also sought to further the overall corporate goal of maximizing the amount of spectrum the company would obtain, but none had thought hard about prioritizing the interests of various departments, much less about reconciling the interests of each department with the overall corporate goal.
For example, the finance department, extremely concerned about the project’s cost, pressed for a conservative use of expensive and uncertain technology.
The engineering department, proud of its cutting-edge technology, was unwilling to consider a system that failed to use that technology to the fullest.
Meanwhile, the government affairs department wanted to put forward a negotiating position that would appeal to the FCC.
Lastly, the operations VP sought to meld the teams’ competing positions into a coherent whole, but he had little time to mediate among them.
Reconciling such divergent positions is the daily work of the professional mediator, who helps negotiators identify the interests underlying their positions, prioritize those interests, and determine which interests would be willing to trade off to protect hose they consider most important.
That was precisely the role Stephen B. Goldberg played in this case (aided by the operations VP in one crucial respect).
Using his mediation skills, Stephen Goldberg assisted the team in developing a common position that each department regarded as sufficiently protective of its interests.
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