Don’t go solo

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm

Counter the weight of a negotiating team by bringing on your own support troops

Question:
I have recently accepted an executive position with a new company. As part of my new responsibilities, I will be frequently engaged in negotiating discussions. What I am finding new and different is that the other parties are negotiating in teams of two or more. Can I be effective negotiating solo? Or should I consider building my own negotiating team?
Answer:
Team negotiating seems to be occurring more and more often in the United States. Many companies are moving to the matrix approach to decision-making whereby stakeholders from various disciplines have a say in the purchase decision. While that has been happening in the hiring process for many years, it is relatively new to other departments within companies. The emphasis on bottom-line profitability has generated a multiple-accountability approach to spending.
In the Orient, negotiations are rarely handled by a single person. The Japanese have a high need for consensus. Great value is placed on the group over the individual. They are more comfortable in being part of a collective decision process rather than making an individual decision.
Team negotiating is similar to one-on-one negotiating in its essence. While there are still two parties, the parties are comprised of teams rather than individuals. What makes the team process different is the number of personalities you must deal with, and understanding how decisions will be made within the group.
Having more than one personality to read, respond to and strategize over can be taxing both physically and emotionally. Each person brings his or her own communications style and, to some degree, his or her own agenda of what is most important. Being able to speak their languages and address each person’s concerns is demanding when there is only one of you.
Likewise, it has been my experience in working with US companies that many teams are formed during their "investigation" phase when they are gathering information about what is available. Unfortunately, rarely have they reached a consensus about the criteria they will use to make their decisions.
As a result, they may use part of their meeting with you to barter between themselves about the value of your offerings. They may even come to some consensus during their meeting, leading you to believe they are ready to close the deal. Two weeks later, after several follow-up phone calls, they tell you that one of the team members doesn’t like a particular part of your proposal, and they are in a holding pattern unless you can make a change.
With cultures where the collective decision process is second nature, the process is much smoother. The teams define up front the criteria they will use to evaluate their options, and know how they will work together before they begin the process. That allows everyone to know how to leverage their strengths and to support each other. In Western cultures, where the individual has traditionally been the focus, the habit of coming to agreement up front on what’s most important and how they will work as a team has not permeated the process. Therefore, it is rare that the process will be time-efficient and focused.
When negotiating, it is my recommendation to never take on a team by yourself if you can avoid it. Teams generate momentum, and that can be overwhelming for a singe person to handle. It becomes almost impossible to listen to each person’s comments, read their body languages, and strategize what you are going to say next.
Working solo, you have little time to think and process. It is just too easy for them to create distractions that undermine your concentration and cause you to lose your focus.
Remember, you look weak. Their sheer force of numbers gives them a strategic advantage in controlling the agenda. That also results in their controlling the outcomes of the negotiation.
It is difficult for any one person not to become intimidated or lose his or her patience when subjected to team-pressure tactics.
Creating a negotiating team is a good next step. While teams often take longer than one-on-one negotiations, they also tend to be more creative and thorough. Complicated issues are more easily handled.
Negotiating teams typically make fewer mistakes than individuals do. They have a broader pool of expertise, experience and resources to draw from. It is also more difficult to intimidate or pressure a team than an individual.
We recommend you follow their lead and create a negotiating team. It will make you less vulnerable and give you more leverage when negotiating.

Christine McMahon is the owner of Christine McMahon & Associates, a training and coaching firm in Milwaukee. She can be reached at 414-272-6566. Small Business Times readers who would like a negotiating situation addressed in this column can send a fax to 414-272-9999, or e-mail her at: ccm@christinemcmahon.com

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