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Better Manage Multiparty Negotiations
Discover How to Overcome Barriers to Build Consensus
Dear Business Professional,
Oscar’s story says a lot about how to manage multiparty negotiations. Here’s how he tells it:
It’s a dream to work with your best friends, right? For me, it almost ended up being a nightmare.
It all began seven years ago in a Harvard dorm room. It was late at night and my friends and I were kicking around business ideas when we hit on something that we thought might work. It was an app that helped people navigate the gig economy and hooked them up with their perfect side hustle.
In the bright light of day, it still seemed like a good idea so we started working. Olivia and I were business majors and Peter and Grace were computer science majors so it was a pretty well-balanced team. Fast forward a year and we got our diplomas and started our company in earnest.
Grace’s father invested the seed money to get us going, and the four of us did our fair share as equal partners. When our app launched, it was a success. But a few years later, things shifted. Jealousies began to simmer. Frustrations mounted. And before long, even the smallest disagreements turned into full-blown arguments.
We knew the partnership wasn’t working anymore. But how could we walk away? And did we really want to? We decided to sit down and negotiate a solution. There was a lot at stake—I had to be prepared.
As a Harvard grad, I had heard about the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. I began scanning the content on their website when I stumbled upon a free special report called Managing Multiparty Negotiations. It was exactly what I was looking for. In it, I learned a better way to make group decisions: consensus building. The goal of consensus building was to seek overwhelming agreement among stakeholders and maximize possible gains to everyone involved.
It actually sounded like an ideal way to figure out our business arrangement—and maybe even keep our friendship intact. The process had five steps:
- Convene the group—Someone with authority (the convener) begins the process of engaging people in the decision-making process. Often, the convener taps a neutral facilitator to talk to the stakeholders.
- Clarify responsibilities—Once the team is assembled, it’s important to clarify that everyone is responsible for formulating proposals that not only meet their own needs, but the needs of everyone at the table. That’s because the goal is a unanimous outcome, not a winning coalition.
- Deliberate and brainstorm—Together, the group brainstorms value-creating options to improve their chances of reaching consensus.
- Reach a decision—Instead of simply taking a vote, a decision is reached by developing packages of recommendations aimed at meeting everyone’s interests until overwhelming agreement is reached.
- Implement the decision—Once consensus is achieved, the implementation process should be smooth, but any issues that arise can be resolved by reconvening the group.
I quickly composed an email to my partners outlining the consensus-building process, and they replied that we should give it a try. The next day, we sat down at our conference table and started talking through the issues. Olivia wanted to keep running the company, I wanted to take a step back but still help out occasionally, and Peter and Grace were ready to part ways entirely. We discussed the finances, equity, and terms of separation. After six hours, we reached a consensus.
Today, we still enjoy a strong friendship. I can honestly say that it probably wouldn’t be the case if I hadn’t read Managing Multiparty Negotiations before sitting down at the bargaining table.
Oscar’s success story is one we’ve heard time and again at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
Negotiation between two sides is difficult. Add more stakeholders to the mix and things can get really complicated, really fast. In Managing Multiparty Negotiations, you’ll discover the keys to handling these complex situations. Within the pages of this free report, you’ll learn how to:
- Lead challenging multiparty negotiations and ensure all parties walk away from the bargaining table satisfied
- Calculate your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA)
- Conduct negotiauctions to manage the bidding process and make the most lucrative deal
- Build consensus around group decisions to maximize the possible gains to everyone involved
Thrive in a Multiparty Negotiation
Trade disputes. Class action lawsuits. Business deals. Multiparty negotiations are everywhere you look. When you’re preparing to negotiate with multiple parties, take the time to answer these questions:
- Which parties are currently scheduled to be at the table? Which parties might you want to include or exclude?
- Who is representing these parties?
- What are the interests of the parties and their representatives, and how might those interests diverge?
- What are the relationships among parties?
- Are winning and blocking coalitions desirable in this negotiation? (A winning coalition improves the odds of a beneficial deal for coalition members, while a blocking coalition protects interests threatened by emerging deals.)
Move Beyond Majority Rule
In negotiation, it’s common to think about winners and losers. But there is a way for everyone to win. In this free special report, negotiation experts Lawrence Susskind and Jeffrey L. Cruikshank advocate for consensus building as a powerful replacement for majority rule.
Rather than allowing the majority to dictate terms to the minority, consensus building involves seeking overwhelming agreement among everyone at the table. Though unanimity is often unlikely, you can strive for the best agreement for the vast majority. Before you embark on consensus-building, take the time to consider your BATNA:
- Think about what you will do if the deal you want most fails to materialize
- Attempt to analyze the BATNAs of the other parties at the table—that is, what is the minimum you can offer someone to secure a commitment
- Envision how the multiple parties may align and estimate the BATNA of each coalition
- Keep track of shifting BATNAs by developing a payoff matrix of parties and interests before talks begin
Make More Lucrative Deals with a Negotiauction
Have a valuable asset you want to sell? Help drive up the price by holding a negotiauction—a negotiation-auction hybrid that Harvard Business School Professor Guhan Subramanian and Harvard Kennedy School Professor Richard Zeckhauser have found is often used in high-stakes deals. A negotiauction typically has these features:
- Several potential buyers (usually three to 10) of a high-value asset
- Privileged information about the asset on the seller’s side
- One-on-one negotiations between the seller and potential buyers
- One or more rounds of bidding and other forms of direct competition between potential buyers in a manner that resembles an auction
In Managing Multiparty Negotiations, you’ll discover why negotiauctions offer the best of both worlds to sellers and buyers alike.
Form a Better Coalition
If you’re in a negotiation with many parties who have varying positions, it may be tempting to join a coalition with parties who share at least some of your goals. But should you join one? In this free special report, you’ll learn the upsides and downsides of forming a coalition, including these five key factors:
- Be aware that coalitions are unstable and tend to promote a competitive, untrusting atmosphere that leads to inefficient solutions
- Try to build alliances to increase leverage without undermining relationships with other parties
- Reach across party lines to keep communication flowing among all negotiators
- Vet potential coalition partners and maintain the flexibility to switch allegiances if you need to do so
- Decide if you should form a winning coalition to improve the odds of a beneficial deal or a blocking coalition to protect your interests
Coalitions can make or break a deal, but be sure you explore all your options before you enter one. For more guidance, read Managing Multiparty Negotiations.
Negotiate with the Best
Whether you’re in a negotiation with three parties or three hundred, you can get the advice you need to come out on top by reading Managing Multiparty Negotiations from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Curated from several articles in Harvard’s Negotiation Briefings newsletter, this report contains the insights you need to master multiparty negotiation strategies.
Build consensus, maximize value for all parties, and get the deal done. Discover game-changing advice and information in this free special report. Download your complimentary copy of Managing Multiparty Negotiations right now—I know you’ll be glad you did.
Director of Marketing
Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
P.S. Are you ready to excel in your next multiparty negotiation? Build your skills today by downloading your free copy of Managing Multiparty Negotiations.