Negotiating on behalf of someone else presents some special challenges. When you begin such a negotiation, you need to have a clear idea of your Walk Away Price (WAP) and the concessions you have permission to make. You also need to be sure you understand the issues well enough to respond to tough questions that may come up in the negotiation.
If you are assembling a team to assist in the negotiation, you need to select people who have the expertise and the temperament to move the negotiation forward. It is not unlike selecting an army unit, in some ways. When going into battle, you want to have people nearby who will ensure that your interests are protected. It is said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and this is a good principle to take with you into negotiations.
An essential part of leading a team of any kind is sharing information. Teams need information to thrive. Before the negotiation, hold a meeting with the team to make sure everyone has the information they need to make an effective contribution. You can also use these meetings to:
You do not want to approach negotiations with a team containing someone who is unaware of their role or of the overall goal. If there is uncertainty in the team, it will spread quickly and it will certainly be picked up on by your counterparts. This can lead to you being hamstrung in terms of your bargaining power, because a team with a clearly defined brief and all its members fully apprised of the plan will be able to pull concessions from one with chaos in its ranks.
Having a team with clearly defined roles and a clearly defined goal is something that will be an asset in any negotiations. The more people you have (as long as they are professional and aware of their position), the more talents at your disposal and the more room for maneuver you will have when it comes to intensive negotiations. What you want is a situation where “two heads are better than one”, rather than one where “too many chefs spoil the broth”.
Some negotiations are so complex that it is difficult for one person to master all the issues. In these situations it is worthwhile to assemble a team of experts to make sure all the bases are covered. As with any team, it is important that each person knows exactly what he or she is responsible for. What is gained through having a dedicated team designed to achieve the best negotiating muscle can be lost through having people who are unaware of their roles or unclear on what they can and cannot deliver.
It is beneficial to have a team who feel that they can make decisions with an element of autonomy. This will allow them to operate naturally in a negotiation with little fear that they might overstep the mark. However, it is important to have some limitations to their autonomy, as they are not negotiating for themselves. There is a need for balance in these situations. If they feel their hands are tied and they cannot make a decision without referring back to you, they will be powerless in negotiations. If they feel that they have free rein and can do whatever they want, they may make a decision which you would not have made yourself and which damages your position. Finding the point in between where you can be confident that their decisions will benefit you is essential.
As with so many issues, it is important to get the balance right, as complex negotiations have a tendency to break down or end in an unpopular agreement if they are not handled correctly and with a sense of common purpose. If you get your team right, you can ensure at least that you are not the negotiator who ends up with an unpopular deal on your hands.
Here are some possible ways to respond to questions that you decline to answer:
Each of these approaches is a way that you can take the question in your stride and be seen to be giving it the consideration it deserves, without giving an answer that will put you on the back foot in terms of negotiations. People may ask you difficult questions in order to trap you, or because their own position is uncertain and they want to find a way to clarify it. How you handle such questions will be important, but as long as you show certainty and a desire to be straight with them, you need not lose confidence.
Jillian was the leader of a three person negotiation team for a merger between their company, Tillman’s Diamond Imports, and another precious metals import company. Before the meeting, she reminded everyone of their roles in the negotiation and went over a rough game plan of how the meeting should go. During the meeting, the other company’s representatives asked several questions that Jillian’s team didn’t know how to answer. Instead of guessing, Jillian wrote them down and told the other team that she would find out for the next meeting. Through quality and diligent work, Jillian and her team pulled off the merger without a hitch.