When You’re on Stage

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

Adapted from “How to Deal When the Going Gets Tough,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

Negotiators tend to feel pressured when they’re performing in front of an audience, according to Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra. If your boss is watching your every move, if you are bargaining as part of a team, or if your negotiations are being reported in the media, you may feel added pressure to “beat” the other side—and rely exclusively on hardball tactics as a result. The negative impact of an audience is likely to be especially strong if your organization is struggling to stay afloat or if you’re facing other extreme consequences of a failed deal.

The most obvious way to override the detrimental effect of an audience is to negotiate one-on-one rather than with your entire team present. Without disbanding the team, you could suggest that everyone might benefit from breaking down phases of your talks into pairs of negotiators. If you must negotiate as a group, communicate that you plan to work toward creating new value in addition to claiming value for your side. You might also seek feedback from your team on your negotiation performance. In addition to gaining advice on how to do better, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you’re doing better than you thought.

Finally, there are times when you can use the presence of an audience, even just one individual, to your advantage in negotiation. Let’s consider the case of Jackie, an IT consultant who was having trouble getting paid the full amount she was owed by a marketing firm. Aware that an acquaintance of hers named Doug was scheduled to do consulting work for the same company, Jackie sent an e-mail warning Doug that the firm seemed to be having trouble paying its bills. Doug informed the firm that he knew about Jackie’s problem and was concerned that he would not be paid for the work he was about to perform. Within a week, Jackie received a check for the balance owed to her. The prospect of a damaged reputation clearly motivated the company to settle its debts.

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