Negotiation Blog

Balancing the Individual and the Group in Team Negotiating

By Thomas Wood

I recently consulted with a sales team that was preparing for negotiations with their company’s largest customer. They encountered some roadblocks along the way, not with the customer as it turns out, but within the team itself. Negotiating as a team can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Having just gone through this experience, I wanted to share three of the lessons learned:

Individual ideas matter. Though teams are individuals brought together to reach a common goal, it is easy to get lost in the group. When I arrived at the client, I interviewed the individual team members and was impressed with their great ideas. Then I reviewed the preliminary negotiation strategy the team had developed. Guess what? Most of those great ideas were missing! One key to success is to negotiate as a team, but prepare as a group of creative individuals.

Different ideas stimulate progress and thought; each member of the team is there to contribute his/her expertise, talent and unique perspective. We gathered together with this new approach in mind, and followed some practical advice from Kristin Arnold of The Extraordinary Team. Kristin advocates that teams “encourage robust dialogue” and “suffer the silence to allow our team mates to think through the question, evaluate the options and then to raise their voices.” And on the most critical issues, we took a practical tip right out of Kristin’s playbook and polled the group to see where each person stood on difficult decisions.

Conversations impact negotiations. Several team members had been in communication with the customer as part of the information gathering stage. That’s good – each performing their role in finance, sales, engineering et al. To our surprise, the customer came to the table with some unfortunate misperceptions about our positions that hindered productive bargaining. We eventually realized the source of the problem -- our own team! The problem was that there had been no prior coordination of the message among our team – why we are asking these questions; what our new goals are; what market changes concern us, etc. All conversations impact negotiations, so it is imperative that all team members are on board with the message.

Know your role. It’s important to assign roles among the team, such as team leader, lead negotiator, subject matter expert, finance, scribe, coach, spokesperson, bad guy, etc. On our team the jobs of team leader and lead negotiator resided in the same person. While this might work in less complex negotiations, we lost the benefit of a team leader most of the time. All would agree that our lead negotiator did a fabulous job of following the plan at the bargaining table, but he was so drawn into the negotiations with the customer that nobody was leading the team, which needed to consider alternative strategies and concessions as the customer’s proposals took into uncharted water.

Team Leader is a critical role, and deserves its own focus. The Lead Negotiator is the face-to-face lead person heading the negotiation at the bargaining table, and must be shown respect by the team before, during and after the meeting for the other side to realize that concessions will come only from the lead negotiator. The Team Leader, on the other hand, is responsible for providing the team guidance and leadership and need not be present during face-to-face bargaining sessions.

If you have to wear more than one hat on the team, take Kristin Arnold’s simple advice: “To alleviate the confusion, let your team mates know which hat you are wearing and when you change your role.”

Final thoughts - the good, the bad, and the beautiful

The good. Negotiating as a team represents a smart, indispensable and productive way of negotiating when the right team is in place, preparation is thorough, stakeholders are on board, and team members stay in role and on message.

The bad. The many benefits to team negotiating come with tradeoffs – teams are more time intensive, ego and emotions management are critical, group-think can take over, there are more opportunities for missteps, etc.

The beautiful. Utilizing individual strengths while keeping the team engaged and organized can produce powerful results.

Learn more about teams and team facilitation from expert Kristen Arnold at For more tips on effective negotiating teams, email [email protected] and ask for our comprehensive article on “Best Negotiating Practices for Teams.” 

Negotiating Tip

Listen! It's the easiest and most valuable concession you can offer in any negotiation. You always get goodwill and information in exchange.

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Negotiation Blog

Negotiators Do Judge a Book by Its Cover

By Marianne Eby

To really understand why something so superficial matters, we are going to think out of the negotiation box. Let's think restaurant menu, think Apple products, think Erin Brokovich, and before we finish, think Mao Zedong. Then we'll better be able to think negotiations.

Think restaurant menu
A restaurant with a well-designed menu invites you to try something new rather than rely on a habitual choice. The menu may list drinks first and separate from the courses to guide you to spend more on high profit libations. When the choices for foods are more limited, with clear titles, and information about each option below the dish, and a price, most of us feel comfortable that we are making an informed choice and can decide more quickly. This helps the restaurant with throughput (seating more diners). When the pictures of food or other people/places on the menu are not enticing, or the information is overwhelming or confusing, diners may walk-out or order a cheaper item so as not to risk as much.
Think Apple products
Apple’s core philosophy imbedded by its founder Steve Jobs is that great products come at the intersection of arts and technology. These products make us want to hold them, use them, brag about them, and but of course, spend money on them. Back in 2005 Jobs demonstrated the simplicity of an Apple remote versus the typical peanut shaped remote with dozens of keys on it. Year after year he and Apple have proven that while functioning is critical, the look and feel also matter. 
It’s as if the well designed menu or techno gadget (or the poorly designed one), negotiates with consumers on behalf of the company. Forget how good the food really is, or how fabulous the functions of the techno gadget, we will pay more for it when it presents itself well.
Think Erin Brokovich
I can’t help but think of the famous scene from the Academy Award winning movie Erin Brokovich (2000). Julia Roberts won Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brokovich, a sassy paralegal who helps bring down a chemical company in a class action suit. The real Erin Brokovich admits to dressing and talking “potty mouth” and vents
“I was taught never to judge a book by its cover.”
The instructive negotiating scene that comes to my mind is when the chemical company sends over an inexperienced attorney to get a quick settlement, and he is slouched in the plaintiffs’ attorney’s waiting room. His posture and facial expression send a message: either the chemical company doesn’t consider this litigation a threat, or this is a tactic to make the plaintiffs think the lawsuit will go nowhere and they should settle for nuisance value.
The image of the attorney representing the chemical company mattered greatly in terms of the message that plaintiffs received and thus influenced their next move in the litigation. 
Think Mao Zedong
On the other end of the spectrum I envision Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader who led the nation’s communist revolution to become Chairman of the People’s Republic of China from 1949-59. This charismatic leader had such an aura of power that he chose to carry a small book in his hand in order to send a message of approachability. You can read more about his rise to power and expert messaging in Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician, Dr. Li Zhisui.
Think Negotiation
Our clothed appearance, body language and facial expressions send a message about how we feel about the negotiations and the other parties. Similarly, like the design of a restaurant menu, the layout of our proposal or response can speak volumes about our approach to our customer, supplier or partner.
We don’t always think about how we look and sound and pose at the negotiating table, especially after long hours of preparation on substance or difficult bargaining sessions. We’re certainly not in favor of a cadre of same suited minions arriving at the negotiating table with shoulders held back and strong handshakes. The key is not to be one style, but to intend that the message your negotiating counterpart receives is the one you intended to send, because we often do judge a book by its cover.


Negotiating Tip

It’s easy to lose your cool when negotiating. Taking three deep breaths will quickly calm you down. Now you can think clearly again.

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8 Tips for Successful Email Negotiation

By Thomas Wood

Email may well now be the dominant form of business communication, and increasingly unavoidable in negotiations. It has its advantages -- it saves money and time, allows you to ask questions that might be more difficult in person, and sometimes reduces stress because of the time allowed for contemplation and reaction. So why do half of email negotiations end in impasse?

Negotiating by email has pitfalls too many negotiators ignore. Research shows that negotiators experience less satisfaction with the process, less rapport, and less future trust in their partners. Why?

  • There is a greater tendency to lie, exaggerate, bluff, or intimidate with email.
  • Negotiators don't feel the pressure of "live performance," and thus often prepare less.
  • Because it is more difficult to build rapport and trust, there is often less focus on interests and more on positions and demands.
  • Communication challenges arise easily, including rudeness, ambiguous messages, misinterpretations, and ill-conceived reactions.
  • It is easier to say "no" and brainstorming is not possible, thus cramping creativity and the likelihood of value creation.

Because of these downsides, email negotiations can inhibit the trust and mutual understanding that builds and sustains rapport, so conflicts or misunderstandings can easily degenerate or worsen. Here are 8 tips for maximizing the value of email and minimizing the risk:

  1. Meet first. The first meeting is critical to establishing rapport. It gives everyone the chance to observe expressions and gestures, gauge likeability, style, and personality. Web-conferencing can work, but meet face-to-face if possible, especially for complex agreements.
  2. Continue to build rapport. Over the course of emailing, express emotions as you would in person, especially positive ones (e.g., excitement, confidence, hopefulness. Even a simple opening greeting and sign-off, as we naturally do in face-to-face meetings, can go a long way in maintaining essential rapport. Make “small talk” or “small text” as you naturally do in face-to-face conversations, before you get into the meat of your message. “Hope all is well.” “Were you hit by that tropical storm last week?” “Did your daughter’s team win their game?”
  3. Have a well-established goal. Think of negotiating as communicating with a goal in mind. Beware of stream of consciousness negotiation on key deal points. Share your expectations, and when you think things have gone awry. Always know the minimum and maximum parameters that make agreement worthwhile for your side, and return to those before responding to offers via email.
  4. Brainstorm offline. Email does not usually spark or encourage creativity like the back and forth of live conversation. When a solution is not apparent, schedule a phone call or in-person meeting to get the ideas moving.
  5. Stamp out conflict. If an email comes off as rigid, or rude, it may be unintentional. Don't respond immediately and don't respond in kind. Take a short break, then contact your counterpart by phone, or email a simple statement of concern or desire to clarify. If there is a problem, pick up the phone or schedule a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible. Conflict with emotional intensity is rarely solved over email.
  6. Ask more questions, not less. There is a tendency to limit questions over email because it appears tedious. Don't fall into this trap. To avoid lengthy and exhausting lists, start with broad questions, intersperse phone conversations to discuss the answers, and use shorter emails to group follow-up questions by topic.
  7. Keep the climate positive. Maintain a friendly tone in emails -- use emoticons, yes frown (but don't over use), if it feels friendly. Interpret email messages with caution and sensitivity, and leave room for personality, style, and cultural differences. Make sure to clarify any ambiguities right away, and use generally accepted best practices in email etiquette.
  8. Sprinkle in the personal touch. Share or ask something personal to connect with the other side -- even if it's only about the weather or a local team. Or look for other areas of common interest (try checking Linked In) and asking open-ended questions. Once you've found out their interests, send them URL's or articles that they might find interesting. Avoid religion or politics, though!

Business professionals continue to use email to further the negotiating and decision-making process, despite its drawbacks, so there's no avoiding it. Just use it carefully! And smile as you type.smiley

Visit Watershed's Negotiator's Learning Center to read more on Negotiating Over Email.

Negotiating Tip

Commitment is what each side agreed that it will do or not do. Commitments should be Practical, Durable, Understood by all, & Verifiable.

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