You show up and you’re outnumbered three to one. In addition to its regional vice president, the other side includes a technical expert and an administrative assistant whose sole purpose is to take notes.
What just happened?
If you engage, you will be starting at a disadvantage because you lack equivalent expertise and will end up with a less detailed written record of the commitments made during the session.
It’s no coincidence that the arms-control negotiations between the United States and the former Soviet Union almost always included the same numbers of individuals on each side of the table.
What should you do?
Find out before you show up who will attend. Negotiate this element of the agenda. If this isn’t realistic, suggest to the decision-maker on the other side that the two of you go into a conference room nearby and see if you can reach a deal. Say: “You don’t really need your entire team with you, right?”
The fact is, whether to negotiate on or against a team is a significant strategic decision that should be carefully considered before you show up for the negotiation. Two elements need to be especially analyzed:
1. Where you should use a negotiating team
In a recent Harvard Negotiation Newsletter, Cornell Business School Professor Elizabeth Mannix detailed the following circumstances where negotiating as a team can be particularly effective:
• Complex negotiations that require a “diverse set of knowledge, abilities or expertise.” So include a tax expert if the issues involve complex tax issues.
• Negotiations that include significant potential for especially creative solutions. Research shows that effective teams generate more integrative and creative solutions than sole negotiators.
• Negotiations where different internal constituencies should be represented at the table. In some international negotiations, it is helpful to have members of the executive and legislative branches present since both must ultimately approve the deal.
• Environments where a large team will be perceived as reflective of your strength, and going it alone will be perceived as a weakness.
If your neighborhood doesn’t want a high-rise commercial development to go in nearby and the developers need zoning approval, bring along to the negotiation your homeowners’ association president and several neighbors.
• Situations where a team will tell the other side your seriousness regarding the negotiation. Bringing a lawyer to your negotiation with the developer will communicate your seriousness about your opposition and your willingness to pay to defeat it.
• Negotiations where your team members have negotiation skills that complement and add to yours. Your team member may be particularly effective in negotiating for new cars and you dislike those negotiations.
Of course, knowing where to negotiate with a team is only the beginning.
You also need to evaluate what to do once you get there.
2. How to negotiate as a team
There are three critical steps to determine how to most effectively negotiate as a team.
First, determine who you want on your team and why.
Identify your personnel needs, find the individuals who will satisfy your needs, assess the value they will add, and then tentatively select those who fit the bill.
Second, make sure that every team member will devote the time and effort to making the negotiation a success.
The worst thing that can happen in a team negotiation is when team members send conflicting signals and/or inadvertently work at cross purposes.
The bottom line? Effective team negotiations require a great deal of coordination before you sit down at the table or pick up that conference call. Make sure your team understands this.
Finally, prepare strategically — as a team — by going through my Five Golden Rules of Negotiation:
1. Information is power — so get it.
2. Maximize your leverage.
3. Employ “fair” objective criteria.
4. Design an offer-concession strategy.
5. Control the agenda.
(For a more extensive discussion of these rules, see my Feb. 6, 2004, negotiation column at phoenix.bizjournals.com.)
And pay particular attention as you strategically prepare the roles you want each team member to play.
Overall, someone should almost always take the lead. Someone else might be the substantive expert or the numbers person. You might even consider identifying a good cop and a bad cop.
Then decide how and where your team members should engage during the negotiation itself. It’s easy to just leave this to chance or to just say “Take my lead.”
It will cost you — and your entire team — in the end.
Published May 6, 2005 The Business Journal