How A Negotiator Can Manage A Multiparty Negotiation

More parties involved in a negotiation make it that much more difficult
More parties involved in a negotiation make it that much more difficult
Image Credit: ARCHIVED Department of Energy and Climate Change

I think that we all realize that participating in a negotiation can be a very complex undertaking. However, if you want to make things even more complicated then all you have to do is involve yourself in a multiparty negotiation. Multiparty negotiations are actually fairly common. There are three issues that make multi­party negotiations more complex than two-party talks. These issues are (1) coalition formation, (2) process-management issues, and (3) the fluctuating nature of each party’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). As a negotiator, if you are able to prepare for these differences in negotiating strategy, you will be well positioned to thrive in your next multiparty negotiation.

You Need To Choose Your Coalitions Wisely

One of the biggest problems when you engage in a multiparty negotiation is that there will always be clamoring voices no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques you are using. Due to this it can be difficult to be heard. In such instances, it could be wise for you to choose to form or join a coalition with parties who share one or more of your goals.

In a multiparty negotiation coalitions can be powerful organizational tools that build on strength in numbers in a multiparty negotiation. But as a negotiator knows, coalitions are unstable and tend to promote adversarial bargaining. In this type of negotiation, your goal should be to build alliances to increase leverage without under­mining relationships with other parties. This will require that you reach across party lines to keep communication flowing among all negotiators.

As you build your coalition you’ll need to carefully plan how and when to meet with potential coalition partners. The reason that you need to be careful is because you could be asked to commit to a particular side before you have a chance to talk to other potential partners. In the case that you do join a coalition, keep the flexibility you need to switch allegiances if required

Take Time To Manage The Process

Let’s face it: whether you are negotiating with two parties or 20, interactions in your multiparty negotiation are bound to be more complicated than when you are dealing with just a single party. In these situations sometimes it makes sense to appoint a manager to oversee the multiparty negotiations. You can put the manager in charge of putting together the group’s agenda, setting rules, summarizing understandings among parties, and communicating the final agreement to outsiders, among other tasks.

Another way that negotiators can tame the potential chaos of multiparty negotiation is to create a payoff matrix of parties and interests before talks begin. What a payoff matrix is consists of a spreadsheet that lists the names of the parties in rows, the issues to be discussed in columns, and the parties’ priorities on those issues in the boxes that are formed. The negotiation manager that you appointed can update the spreadsheet during the meeting, allowing parties to see at a glance what they have achieved and what still needs to be done.

In the event that the numbers involved in a multiparty negotiation are especially large, consider breaking into smaller working groups to develop preliminary proposals on elements of the overall agenda. When you use them, such functional groups can serve to bridge differences among members of different coalitions.

Understand That You Need To Always Be Calculating Dynamic BATNAs

Homework matters just a much in multiparty negotiations as it does when you are negotiating with a single party. Just like when you are engaged in a two-party negotiation, you should enter multiparty negotiations with a solid idea of your BATNA—that is, what you will do if a deal fails to materialize. The reason that this is so important is because it can help you stand firm in the face of offers that fall short of your goals.

After you determine what your BATNA is, you should also attempt to analyze the BATNAs of the other parties at the table. What you’ll want to do is to roughly calculate the minimum you can offer someone to secure a commitment and this will help you immensely. When you are engaged in a multiparty negotiations among a large number of parties, determining each party’s BATNA can be a daunting, even impossible, undertaking. In this situation, at the very least, try to foresee how parties may align and estimate the BATNA of each possible coalition. Once negotiations begin, parties’ BATNAs will begin to fluctuate. A payoff matrix can help you keep track of shifting BATNAs in addition to parties’ preferences.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiating is hard work. When you agree to negotiate with multiple parties, things can get even tougher. What we need to understand as negotiators is that in order to be successful in a multiparty principled negotiation we need to go in prepared and we need to keep track of the different parties during the negotiations.

Because negotiating with multiple parties can be so difficult to do, you may want to consider creating a coalition with other parties. If you do this, then you’ll need to make sure that you desires line up with the other members of your coalition. Communication with your coalition partners will be critical. Multiparty negotiations have a lot of different things going on all the time. It might make sense to appoint someone to be your manager and allow them to take care of the details. Creating a payoff matrix is another way to stay on top of what is going on. If you have to, break up into small teams to work through issues before bringing them back to the larger gathering. You need to know what your BATNA is going into a multiparty negotiation and you need to know the BATNAs of everyone else. These will change during the negotiations and you need to stay on top of them during the negotiations.

The good news about multiparty negotiations is that they can be done. However, they are difficult and they require that a negotiator prepare for them before they start and they have to stay on top of them while they are going on. If you can use the tools and techniques that we’ve discussed to manage your next multiparty negotiation, then you can get the deal that you came looking for.

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

Question For You: Do you think that there should be a limit to the number of people that you agree to negotiate with at one time?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators we’d all like to find ways to become better at this critical skill. One way to make this happen is to find people that we know do it well and then ask them questions – how did they become so good. When they negotiate, what do negotiation styles and negotiating techniques do they use in order to get the deal that they are looking for? One such person is Tony Blair, the former prime minster of Great Britain. Tony is most famous for the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Let’s take a look at Tony’s suggestions for how we can make our next negotiation be successful.