Do you find yourself in a position where it is difficult for you to make sense of all the issues & interests of the many parties that are involved in a negotiation?
This is a common challenge. Much has been written about how to deal with complex negotiation situations - unfortunately most of it is generically focused and does not address the needs of business negotiators.
The field of business-to-business negotiation can be very complex indeed, and without a navigational tool to assist you in managing this complexity, you could miss opportunities and cost yourself and your organisation dearly.
The key to unlocking optimal value from your complex negotiation situations is for you to identify and understand the interests of all the parties impacted by or participating in the negotiation. In some cases, it can be easy for you to understand both the positions & interests of stakeholders in the negotiation. In most cases, however, it is not only difficult for you to identify the interests of stakeholders; it is also difficult for you to identify all the stakeholders.
What then are the most critical strategies and skills you need to successfully deal with complex, multi-party negotiations?
1. Identify all the stakeholders in the negotiation.
This may be stating the obvious but in practice, it can be difficult for you to spot and track all the stakeholders in a negotiation. In a business environment, you should at minimum try to identify the following stakeholders:
a. The financial stakeholders
These are the individuals or groups that will finance, underwrite or lend authorisation to conclude an agreement based on the financial terms proposed. It is key that you identify all potential individuals that may have an interest in the financial aspects of the negotiation.
b. The user/consumer stakeholders
These are the individuals or groups that will implement and support the outcome of the agreement that is reached. Typically these are the stakeholders that will live and work with the outcome of the negotiations on a day to day basis.
c. The technical & legal stakeholders
These are the individuals or groups that will sign off and approve the technical and contractual dimensions of the negotiations.
d. Guides/Gurus & other Influencers
These are the individuals or groups that hold significant influence over the decision makers involved in the negotiation.
2. Identify the interests of each stakeholder in the negotiation
There are basically two ways for you to identify an individual or group's interest in a negotiation. The first way is to put yourself in that individual or group's position and to try and see things from his/her/their perspective. What supporting data would you require? What precedents would apply? What assumptions can you make, and test?
The second way is to ask the individual or group a series of questions to help you (and them) to accurately identify their key interests. The best question to ask is "Why?" "Why is this negotiation important to you? Why are you assuming this position? Why is this option being explored?"
3. Create a frame that is appropriate for each stakeholder.
Once you have identified the interests of each stakeholder, you should now create the appropriate frame. Different people take decisions for different reasons. It is not appropriate to highlight the same points to support decision making to all stakeholders. You should focus on communicating the most appropriate frame to each stakeholder or potential stakeholder.
A decision, or part of a decision, can be significantly impacted by the frame that you create for the stakeholder.
4. Create an effective management structure for the negotiation
It is of critical importance to think about how you will manage the various stakeholders in the negotiation. In complex transactions, you will need various resources to support the negotiations. It is critical that you identify a clear role for each participant and that you create an environment within which you present your counterparts with a consistent message.
If your counterparties experiences you and your team to be rational, the odds are greatly enhanced that they will also respond to you in a rational fashion.
You can only present a unified and rational 'front' if you have considered the roles & responsibilities within your negotiation team.
Split the focus in the team between those that will manage the relationship aspects, and those that will manage or be involved in the task related activities. Remember to create an agenda that addresses the interests of all potential stakeholders.
A successful way for you to simplify complex negotiations is to add structure.
You need to focus on the process elements to ensure that you make progress at every level of the negotiation. You will find that complexity can be more easily managed with the use of an appropriate supporting structure.