The Negotiator Magazine

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On the positive side, however, working in the other party's location provides some possible advantages in that you are able to observe the other firm's operating environment, assess its personnel, build relationships with their key players and experience their culture. What you trade, on-the-other-hand, are the advantages that might have accrued to your side by showing your own firm's institutional strengths of resource and personnel that will enrich your contribution to a future relationship. Over-all, I would consider this a considerable disadvantage to creating the positive climate for the best possible agreement.

Equally important, constancy of place leads inevitably to a host-guest relationship that adds power to the host and often unrecognized behavioral expectations on the part of the guest to the negotiating dynamic. No matter how innocently given and accepted, taking your "reserved chair," drinking your special coffee and sampling your favorite pastry supplied each week by your host as a part of the negotiation ritual creates social debt that inevitably weighs in the negotiation power balance.

To off-set this factor, reciprocity must be assured in the process. Your office, my restaurant and check for lunch must be insisted upon to keep parity. This insistence upon reciprocity is vital to the balance you seek to maintain. Quite simply, a better strategy, in my judgment, would be to inform the other party that having met your group and tasted your culture you wish to host the next meeting at your location so they can they can meet my group and know our culture.

More than three months of weekly meetings yields more than a dozen opportunities to shift site, change perceptions and neutralize the effect of location on the power balance. A good rule to follow in the future is that effective long-term negotiations are best held at alternating or neutral sites. In delicate and complex negotiations, every element counts or at least we should consider that it might do so.

Whether this factor materially changed the final outcome of your negotiation is very difficult to know, but that it created a perception of a lack of balance in the minds of your management is clear. Negotiations in many respects are about nuances, perceptions and satisfying multiple constituencies both within the room and outside it. The effective negotiator must attempt to deal with each of these elements through tactics and strategies planned before the sessions and continually reviewed as the negotiations proceed on their course. This is one of those areas.

Good luck,

John Baker

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