Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter November 1999

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


Recently I've run across several major business negotiations in which the number of participants does not seem to bear a logical relationship to the number of stakeholders, the issues under discussion, or even the relative importance of those issues. Moreover, in two of these cases, the people representing one of the 'sides' openly disagreed with each other in the presence of the negotiators from the 'other side.'

Preparation is key to efficient negotiation. Sending many people to a meeting may indicate that you have not prepared as well as you should. Find out whether your colleagues agree with you, and what their interests are, before you begin negotiating with an outside party. The credibility of the whole side is weakened by internal arguments displayed during the negotiation with another group.

Often it is not possible for a single person to represent all the disparate interests of one party to a negotiation. Sometimes, even the most skilled negotiator needs to be able to check with colleagues about how best to handle specific issues. Yet ultimately, someone has to be the 'drop-dead decision-maker', weighing the relative importance of conflicting interests and deciding when and how to manage internal priorities to present a cohesive approach to the formal negotiation process.

An effective stakeholder group can often use the preparation process to reduce the number of bodies who arrive at the formal negotiation. This increases the credibility of the individuals who do participate. It also reduces the likelihood that either party will choose to escalate the pressure on the negotiation process by bringing an ever-larger group to subsequent meetings.

Sometimes a single negotiator from one party arrives find what seems like an army across the negotiating table. It can be daunting to find yourself facing nine people when you expected to meet with one. Such situations call for a sharp intake of breath, and a few moments of reflection on who is trying to prove what to whom. Is this an attempt to put you at a psychological disadvantage? It may actually exhibit one of several kinds of insecurity. Does the individual need a gang of colleagues to demonstrate their support of a position? Does the presence of an entire team demonstrate that the individual is really not empowered to make or implement decisions?

In such situations, it makes sense to ask questions: Find out who everyone is, and what their interests and objectives are in the negotiation. Listen carefully to the answers, and take advantage of their 'talk time' to reorganize your strategy to reflect the changed negotiation process.

Is there a 'right' number of people to represent each party to a negotiation? Unless a person is uniquely necessary for a particular element of the decision process - and can only contribute if s/he has been exposed to the entire context of the negotiation - they don't belong there. If the decision-makers are at the table, and if they keep good records of agreed items, they should be able to sell the result to their constituencies - and to give the lawyers who will write any ensuing contracts clear instructions on how to document the agreement properly. Since proper preparation includes good internal discussions, the negotiators' constituents will probably be comfortable with the resulting agreement.

How many negotiators does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The smallest number possible, as long as they're well-prepared.


TNSC is adding some outstanding people to our team: Ron Scruggs, Curtis Johnson and others. Their photos and biographies will appear on our website soon. Other changes in our website are also pending.

We are broadening the menu of what we offer our clients: training in mediation, programs in crisis negotiation, and team-building. In addition, we are increasing the consulting and mentoring we provide for companies involved in complex negotiations and dealing with the consequences of mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures.


"A fit of passion is a thing that has no foresight in it, and so we often have to rue the day when we give way to it."
(Xenephon in 'The Art of Horsemanship', 4th century BC)

Good Luck and Good Negotiating


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