Negotiators Have To Work With The People Behind The Other Side

It's the people behind the other side that really count
It’s the people behind the other side that really count
Image Credit: Paolo Margari

If you want to reach an agreement in your next negotiation using all of your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques, then you are going to have to get the other side to agree with what you have proposed. However, sometimes the other side might be willing to agree with you, but people within their organization may be preventing them from doing this. What this means for you as a negotiator is that you are going to have to find a way to get those people on your side before you can get the deal that you are looking for.

Know Who To Work With

So what does it mean when we talk about working with the people behind the other side? A good example of this happened back after the fall of the Berlin Wall back in 1989. At the time U.S. president George H. W. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, were eager to win international support for German reunification and German membership in NATO. However, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev faced strong opposition to these measures from members of his own Communist Party. The result of this is that both parties negotiating skills were put to the test.

Knowing that they could not meet their goals without Soviet cooperation, Bush and Baker engaged in a campaign to help their reformist Soviet counterparts overcome internal Soviet resistance to German reunification within NATO. The effort included helping the Soviets build a convincing explanation of how the negotiations over Germany would benefit the Soviet Union. An agreement was negotiated within the United States on a document that would transform NATO from a military alliance to more of a political one, a change that would make NATO less threatening to the Soviets. With the document in hand, American and Soviet foreign ministers were able to persuade previously the resistant Communist Party leaders to accept a unified Germany within NATO.

Experienced negotiators understand the that there is value in working to secure buy-in from their constituents as they put together deals with outside parties. They also understand that their counterparts must find ways to obtain a mandate to negotiate from their own constituents. It is always possible that opposition on either side could disrupt the deal. There is always value in going a step further: namely, identifying how your counterparts might deal more effectively with their internal, “behind the table” challenges – and then helping them do it.

Understand that Negotiating Is a Two-Level Game

Negotiators need to realize that any negotiation is a two-level game. The Level One game refers to traditional agreements, and the Level Two game focuses on how negotiators sell these agreements once they get back home. This pattern matches up to the work of business negotiators, who must secure buy-in at the office during or after negotiations with the other side. As it turns out, for negotiators Level Two challenges can be even more difficult than those that we face at Level One.

A tip that negotiators need to keep in mind is that in order to help ourselves, we need to help the other side first. How can you identify and work to overcome challenges on your counterpart’s side of the table? Here are four negotiating skills suggestions:

  1. Understand the other side’s barriers. Pay attention to how the other side views the issues on the table and recognize when their resistance reflects behind-the-table constraints.
  2. Cultivate back-channel relationships. Many negotiations hinge on relationships that are forged across the table – and behind the scenes. Prior to scheduled negotiating sessions, negotiators often advise one another on statements and actions that might win over key players at the table. You should do the same.
  3. Take the high road. Try to avoid making statements that might inflame potential behind-the-scenes deal blockers – and resist the urge to respond to any provocative statements they make.
  4. Help them write an “acceptance speech.” Aid the other side in preparing the message they will deliver to their constituents to announce your tentative agreement. Be sure, in particular, to take the time to prepare compelling responses to likely criticisms.

What All Of This Means For You

As negotiators, our goal in any principled negotiation is to find a way to reach a deal with the other side. There will be times during a negotiation where we have been able to reach an agreement with the other side, but the people that the other side reports to may not support the agreement that we’ve reached. In cases like this, it become important that we find ways to work with the people that the other side reports to in order to get them permission to agree to the deal that we’ve created.

A good example of a situation where the negotiators were in agreement, but the management of the other side was not was when the U.S. was working to get international support for German reunification. The Russians needed to be convinced and the U.S. team had to work with their management. Taking the time to work with the decision makers on the other side is always a good idea. Negotiation is a two-level game. The first level has to do with the negotiators and the second level has to do with their management. We need to help the other side find a way to agree to the deal. There are a number of skills that we can use to do this.

In order to reach a deal with the other side, everyone has to agree to the deal. Realizing that there may be stumbling blocks along the way is a key to reaching a deal. We need to be willing to go the extra mile and take the time to work with the members of the other side’s team who are really in control. If we can convince them that the deal is a good idea, then we can make our negotiation turn out successfully.

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

Question For You: What’s the best way to identify the people on the other side who are really in control?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every negotiator wants to become a better negotiator. We are always searching for the next book to read, the next YouTube video to watch, or the next negotiating seminar to go to that will help us to develop our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. However, if you take a step back you might be surprised at what you find. What has been holding you back from becoming a better negotiator may not be what you don’t already know, but rather what you think that you do know. What I’m talking about are the myths about negotiating that we all seem to accept as facts. It turns out that these myths might be what is preventing you from becoming a better negotiator.