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Multiple Person Negotiating Teams Must Present a United Front

By Charles B. Craver



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Although many negotiations are conducted on a one-on-one basis, many others are conducted by multi-person teams. When three or four negotiators are interacting with single persons on the opposite side, the group tends to have the advantage over the individual. When one of the group members is speaking, her colleagues are listening carefully for any verbal leaks by their own leader and by the opposing person. They are also watching for nonverbal signals that may give away important information. On the other hand, when the lone negotiator is listening to what someone on the other side is saying, he is internalizing the thought process as he formulates a response. As a result, he often misses some of what is being said and many accompanying nonverbal messages. When he replies to the other side, he is so similarly focused on what he is saying that he misses nonverbal signs emanating from those persons.

In my Negotiation class, when exercises are assigned on a two-on-two basis, if one of the two on one side is unable to participate, the lone negotiator almost always obtains terms that are well below average for her side. To counteract this disadvantage, some of the individuals with no partners endeavor to conduct their interactions almost entirely by telephone or e-mail. When they use this approach, they usually obtain far better terms than lone negotiator colleagues who conduct their discussions in person. This is why I tell students and practicing lawyers who have to negotiate with several persons on the opposing side to bring at least one colleague with them to the joint sessions. As a minimum, that individual can listen for verbal leaks and watch for nonverbal signals, and they can provide their partner with important insights when they conduct separate caucus sessions.

What happens when five, ten, or even twenty persons have to come to bargaining sessions? If they are dealing with smaller teams on the other side, they are usually at a distinct disadvantage. When such teams prepare for the impending talks, they tend to focus on what they think the other side representatives will do and say. As a result, they fail to develop a solid united front on their own side. When one person on their team is indicating that the opposing side's position is wholly unacceptable, someone else on the same side may be nodding his head in a more receptive manner. When the lead speaker indicates that she is thinking of walking out and ending the discussions, her colleagues may make it quite clear that they are not planning to exit the room. Well prepared opponents can usually exploit these diverse messages by focusing on the individuals indicating a greater degree of flexibility.


Multiple Person Negotiating Teams Must Present a United Front By Charles B. Craver




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Copyright ©2014 Charles B. Craver
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The Negotiator Magazine  April 2014