The Negotiator Magazine

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When the greater good ceases to be good for you also it's time to restructure your relationship.

If you attempt to create or join a coalition, examine your reasons for doing so - and examine the motives of those who comprise the coalition. Unless other participants perceive they may be impacted equally by the results of coalition action, they are not necessarily truly aligned. Some, in fact, may find themselves believing they can benefit from your injustice, or aim to further their own cause rather than that of the alliance. This situation may be acceptable as long as the relationship matrix remains one of mutual benefit.

As a member of a coalition, I once grappled with the complexities of compromising my own interests in an effort to aid others. Seeing my obvious discomfort, a friend offered this profound advice: "Remember that their objectives can be very different than yours. If it came down to choosing between your family's wellbeing or this group - who cannot even decide where to sit around the table, let alone what is really important - how civic- minded do you want to be?"

You need to ask yourself if you are willing to throw away whatever may make you whole for the benefit of those who may squander your gift for their own selfish objectives. Few people are willing to truly give something for nothing. If you are one of these, you are noble. But realize, you may fight the fight and, in the end, win something so elusive that others may neither appreciate nor benefit from those efforts. And worse, you may not even recognize your own victory.

Coalitions, therefore, require that you keep who and what you're fighting for front and center at all times. When the greater good ceases to be good for you also, or acts to compromise your objective, it's time to restructure your relationship.

Guard against the potential of allies shifting their internal allegiances in order to swing the balance of power in their own favor. This is one reason why learning a perceived ally's motive to join an allegiance is so important. Be wary, at all times, of coalition dynamics where there may exist the potential for a power cluster, particularly one which may come to outweigh or undermine your issue in the eyes of your adversary.

If you position yourself as a cornerstone -- most easily achieved by possessing the greatest damage, organizing and managing the coalition, and bringing greater resources to bear including multiple sources of information -- you will maintain greater influence over the vitality of the coalition. You will also, by design, bear the greatest risk. This places you in a position of being able to leverage the coalition to your advantage. Be mindful, however, that this advantage can quickly wane or altogether disappear within the mobile parameters which conceived it.

Be cautious of allying with those whose objectives are counter in the long or short run to yours. They will reflect upon you and could taint your adversary's perception of you or allow your adversary to capitalize on this perception by wrongly exposing or taking you out of context to the pubic.

Strengthening the Adhesion of a Coalition

Beyond the possession of a common goal, there are four more important ways you can strengthen coalition adhesion:

Try and show mutual benefit through both short-term as well as long-term goals.
Progress towards the end goal needs to be regularly commemorated by acknowledging even small advancements in that direction. Member commitment to coalitions needs continual reinforcement and reassurance.

Members need to know, for example, why resources may be concentrated in such a manner that one member appears to benefit more than others. It is helpful at the outset to clarify the relative damages or gains and involvement of each member of the coalition, so that if resources appear unevenly distributed there is explanation for it and expectations are in line. These and other reasons can work in dynamic concert to jeopardize the cohesion of any coalition at any given time, leading to the possibility of an individual or a cluster of influential persons attempting to turn the tide in their favor, strike out independently, or form their own union.

A cost-sharing arrangement within a coalition may enable the group to retain attorneys and data-collection professionals otherwise beyond the capabilities of an individual. Even without cost-sharing abilities, a well-organized coalition committed to group objectives may encourage the interest of these experts on a contingency basis. Of course, this coveted advantage is not without risk. You will want a back-up plan in the event the coalition fails before a solution is accomplished and you find yourself holding a handful of bills and negotiating with your adversary on a one-on-one basis.

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March 2006