Are You Talking to the Right Person?

By — on / Negotiation Skills

When someone is reluctant to engage in negotiation, you might try to wear her down until she finally caves in. Before you risk becoming a pest, however, ask yourself a critical question: Am I talking to the right person?

When negotiators fail to map out the negotiation process in advance, they can encounter detours and dead ends, 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). One common mistake: beating down the wrong door.

Looking beyond common rules of thumb such as “get your allies on board first,” Lax and Sebenius advise you to map backward from your goal to identify the correct sequence for your negotiation. The process of mapping backward entails envisioning your preffered outcome and then thinking in reverse about how to get to your desired end point.

How does backward mapping work? Start by drawing a “map” of all the parties in your organization who are currently involved in the negotiation as well as those who might have something to contribute. Identify their interests in negotiating with you and consider the likelihood that each party will cooperate with you. In addition, think about how the parties relate to one another. Who influences whom?

Next, consider how you can reach your ultimate target – the person or people you need to help you achieve your goals. Who can help you win over that target? How can you win that party over?

Often this type of analysis leads to the conclusion that you’re approaching people in the wrong order. Instead, focus on winning support from those who can influence your ultimate target.

Adapted from “Negotiating for Change in Your Organization,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, June 2010.

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
501 Pound Hall
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
tel 1-800-391-8629
tel (if calling from outside the U.S.) +1-301-528-2676
fax 617-495-7818