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Multiparty Negotiations (part 2)

multiparty-solutions

Summary

Part 2 of this article discusses options and solutions in handling the multiparty negotiation process and how to effectively find an agreement.

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Now that we have considered all the challenges that can be posed by multiparty negotiations in Multi-Party Negotiations (part 1), let us now turn to examining some really effective solutions and tactics, to overcome some of these barriers.

3 Primary Considerations

  1. Non – Agreement Consequences: One of the first things a negotiator needs, is to understand what costs and consequences may occur, should the group fail to reach a negotiated agreement. In other words, what are our alternatives and what are the alternatives of the other members of the group. Be careful that we don’t over inflate what we perceive as the strength of our alternative options, and over embellish the options of our counterparts.
  2. Decision Making: As a negotiator, we must consider how the group will arrive at making decisions, regarding any and all components of the agreement. Will we push for a unanimous consensus, majority rule, or some other form of decision making process?
  3. First agreement objective: Rather than try and grasp for the brass ring by aspiring to get a consensus on a single whole package solution, think about trying instead to obtain a ‘first agreement‘ that can be improved or revised later. The reason this might be a better option, is because it considers all the barriers that need to be overcome, to dispel the dark cloud that would otherwise loom over the complex negotiation panorama. If we try to get a group consensus, the other negotiators may begin to act like stubborn mules and become positional and confrontational.

Managing the Process

Here are some suggestions to create a more rosy and creative process for our multiparty negotiations.

  1. Appoint a Chairperson: The most ideal option, is to have a neutral party who has no stake in the negotiation process, to act as a neutral facilitator to chair the negotiations. We could opt for a consultant for example. This will allow a chance for everyone to get a fair hearing, and will bring some order to what otherwise could turn into a free for all melee. If we chose someone from within the group who is also engaged in the negotiations, we will have to guard against their own aims or agendas. It should be obvious that they will unlikely be truly ‘neutral’, right?
  2. Filling in the Information Frame: To make an informed decision, we need to make certain we are all in this group picture together. We need to ensure that we are able to base our decisions soundly by getting all the relevant information so we may fully understand the ‘big picture‘. The chairperson will be of great assistance in allotting relatively equal time, to all the parties to present their visions and concerns.

There will be occasions when input will be required from company experts or specialists. Information will be evaluated and decisions rendered outside the physical boundaries of the negotiation, by other people such as constituents and stakeholders. Additional supporting information, such as reports and other forms of data, may need to be brought in and presented.

This information process needs to have fluidity, if it is to work effectively. There are also the various other people on our respective teams, who have different roles to play on this complex stage.

So, what else might we have to consider then?

One possible solution put forth by negotiation experts, Ancona and Caldwell, suggests we consider four possible major roles that could be incorporated into the process. Needless to say, one person can wear different hats and perform different functions, but the key is to understand who is responsible for various and essential tasks.

  1. Scouts: They are the go betweens who fetch relevant material, such statistics and reports, as required by their respective members of the negotiating team.
  2. Ambassadors: These are the people who acquire resources for the group and obtain additional input. They act as a link to senior management to keep them appraised, but they do so informally.
  3. Coordinators: These individuals provide a more official link with the groups primary constituents and stakeholders, such as senior management, CEO, Board of Directors, and stakeholders. They offer the formal presentation and input directly into the process, with their negotiating members.
  4. Guards: The role these individuals play, is to ensure the security of information that is not intended to be revealed to other participants.

Mind Your Step

There are several traps to be on guard against, so we don’t fall flat on our faces. Consider the following as potential vices, that can quickly sabotage our team’s efforts.

  1. Intolerance: Being intolerant to another’s point of view or position, is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. We are all there to achieve an objective and need to intelligently and calmly raise objections, or argue for or against a position. It’s all in the presentation.
  2. Keep emotions in check: Long arduous sessions and strong viewpoints, can act like a searing flame that brings emotions to the boiling point. It is wise to use some vehicle to vent the steam, such as taking a break and bring the emotional temperature down to some manageable level.
  3. Preparation: We might as well put on the dunce cap and go sit in the corner, if we fail to take the time to prepare properly for multiparty negotiations. Lack of preparation, can only undermine our presentation and reduce our credibility to the other negotiators.

Positive Discussion Strategies

To achieve full exploration of information, and exchange or brainstorm ideas in a productive manner, Bazerman, Mannix, and Thompson offer these techniques to approach group decision making.

  1. Delphi Technique:
    A facilitator or group chair, formulates a questionnaire for all parties to provide input, before they sit down at the table. Then, the facilitator summarises the results and returns it to the group. Each team reviews the summation and adds additional input. This process allows the group to exchange information and perspectives. The advantage is, that it allows the group to avoid becoming mired in personality conflicts and saves time. The disadvantage is, that the objectives of the respective negotiating teams, may be improperly expressed. This could result in compromise agreements, where more productive trade-offs, or available negotiating resources, are not fully brought into play for the full benefit of the respective negotiating team members.
  2. Brainstorming:
    Just like it sounds, the parties seated at the table are given a problem and encouraged to voice any solution that pops into their head. This technique allows more creative options or solutions to flower, while allowing everyone participation in the process. The collective solutions can be whittled down, to several very potential useful options.
  3. Nominal Group Technique:
    Following the brainstorming process, a list of solutions is created. These are then ranked or evaluated by the team, in terms of how effectively each solution addresses the needs of the partnership.
  4. Use an Agenda:
    Another technique that can greatly boost a multiparty negotiation, is to set an agreed upon agenda prior to the negotiation. The chairperson or moderator can introduce an agenda that outlines the specific issues to be addressed, in order of preference. The agenda can set the rules of order, and establish how decisions will be made by the group, plus set any time limits that will be devoted to topics or issues.

The advantage is in the structure of the agenda.

The disadvantage, is that an agenda might separate issues that have important links to each other. If this poses a problem, the group may have to redefine the agendas structure. There is also likely to be a negotiation over the order or sequence of items under negotiation, as we train our clients to set the agenda and choose their preferred agenda sequence of items.

Conclusion

Clearly, multiparty negotiations offer more hurdles than one-on-one negotiations. Careful thought, planning and preparation are vital elements that must be fully considered, before beginning the multiparty negotiation process. However, if the group members keep their objectives and goals at the forefront, and avoid adopting tunnel vision, valuable partnerships can result for the benefit of all the participants.

 

  1. Harvard Business Essentials ‘Negotiation’ Harvard Business School Press, (2003).
  2. Max H. Bazerman, Margaret A. Neale, ‘Negotiating Rationally’, The Free Press – MacMillian, (1992).
  3. Leigh Thompson, ‘The Heart and Mind of the Negotiator-2nd Edition’, Prentice Hall Business Publishing, (2001).
  4. J. Lewicki, A. Litterer, W.Minton, M. Sauders, ‘Negotiation’, 2nd Edition, Irwin,(1994).
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