How Negotiators Can Learn To Handle Deal Spoilers

A deal spoiler can happen at any time and negotiators need to be ready to deal with it
A deal spoiler can happen at any time and negotiators need to be ready to deal with it
Image Credit: Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

So how many times has this happened to you? You are involved in a negotiation. Everything seems to be going pretty well – your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques seem to be working. A deal is starting to form up and both sides are starting to see what they may be able to walk away from this deal with when all of sudden something changes. A spoiler enters into the negotiation. Once this happens, something almost magical happens (in a bad way) and the deal that had looked so close jumps out the window and runs away never to be seen again. Clearly a deal spoiler is not something that any of us want to invite to a negotiation; however, what can we do to prevent it from showing up unannounced?

How A Negotiation Can Fall Apart On Us

So how can a negotiator know if their deal is going to fall prey to a spoiler? Well, one way to be aware that your deal is at least vulnerable to being upset is to take a look at how many people are involved in setting the deal up. It turns out that the more people that are involved, the more potential deal spoilers there will be. This is never a good combination to have. What you need to realize as a negotiator is that as the number of people involved in a deal goes up, the potential for the deal to fall apart also increases.

This, of course, leads to the very natural question as to why having more people on board can cause a deal to become unsuccessful. It turns out that the reason that a deal can go south when there are more people involved in it has to do with you and how you are treating the negotiation. What happens for most negotiators is that when there are a number of people involved in the negotiation, we tend to limit ourselves to only negotiating with those people that we believe have both power and authority. What this means is that we won’t be wasting our time attempting to reach out to people that we believe are either skeptics or, even worse, deal spoilers.

Making this kind of mistake is so common that in the world of negotiating it has actually been given a name. We call this kind of mistake making a “DAD” – Decide-Announce-Defend. When we are engaged in a negotiation all too often we’ll make a decision about how we want to proceed (Decide). Once we’ve done this, we then proceed and make an announcement to the other parties involved in the negotiation (Announce). Once this has been accomplished, we’ll then find ourselves having to defend our decision (Defend) from attacks on it. If things don’t go well for us, then we’ll ultimately end up having to abandon our decision and perhaps the entire negotiation.

How To Conduct A Negotiation Campaign

If we can understand how a deal spoiler can happen, this then leads us to searching for ways to avoid this kind of debacle. It turns out that what we are going to want to do is to build a winning coalition through consensus — that is, earning support from the right parties, including potential deal blockers, to ensure our deal will overcome hard-bargaining tactics and hold up during the eventual implementation stage. This approach has been so successful that it has been given a name, a “negotiation campaign“.

This may sound like a good idea, but just exactly how can we go about making it happen? The first thing that negotiators need to understand is that we must never take victory for granted in a complex, multiparty setting. When there are multiple people involved in a negotiation, just about anything can happen at any time and if we start making assumptions, then we’re probably going to discover that we are wrong more often than not. In order to be able to reach the deal that we want with the other side, we need to actively monitor local opinion on the issues involved. Opinions can change quickly and we need to know if they do so that we can adjust our tactics to work with the new reality. The only way that we’re going to get a deal to happen is with the proper amount of support. This is why negotiators need to identify and nurture potential allies before you need their support. In addition to identifying those parties who support the deal that we’re trying to reach, we also have to identify all of our likely and potential opponents at the start of the process. These people may be the most important because opponents with diverse concerns can team up to form a blocking coalition if we are not careful.

Negotiators who are trying to reach a workable deal with the other side need to make sure that they take the time to listen to the concerns of potential opponents and address them to the extent possible. The key to this part of the negotiation process is that you will be showing the other side respect, you will be showing them that you are willing to take the time to listen to what they have to tell you. This will be key to your ability to reach a deal with them because as we all know, negotiation continues during the implementation stage and requires ongoing support to succeed.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiators know that when complex projects are being planned and negotiated, the likelihood that they will face strong opposition and naysayers is high. This is almost the nature of the game. The bigger the deal, the more impact it is going to have, the more opposition it is going to attract. Negotiators can reduce the odds that a project will be spoiled by a blocking coalition and reach a lasting negotiated agreement by adhering to the principled negotiation tips and techniques that we’ve discussed.

In order to make your next negotiation a success, what all of this means is that you need to stay attuned to the concerns of the communities and other groups involved, spend time nurturing allies, anticipating opponents and addressing their concerns to the degree that you can, and building enough support to overcome those who remain hostile. No, you won’t be able to eliminate certain groups of people from being against the deal that you are trying to put together, but you can take steps to minimize their voice. Get the votes that you need and your deal will be able to be approved by both sides.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there could ever be a negotiation where you just can’t get the support that you need for your idea and you have to end up walking away?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators, every time that we enter into a negotiation we hope to be able to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to walk away with a deal that we can live with. However, in order for that to happen we have to have taken the time to prepare for the negotiation. All too often this is exactly what we don’t do. When you haven’t done the necessary research, you are likely to leave value on the table and even to be taken advantage of by the other side. What you need is a negotiation preparation checklist that can help you avoid this scenario by helping you think through your position, the other side’s position, and what might happen when you get together. We do need to understand that business negotiations are highly unpredictable. It is possible that some of your prep work won’t turn out to be relevant, and new issues and problems will crop up and demand your attention. However, having a solid understanding of what’s at stake and where each side is coming from will help you do a better job of thinking on your feet.