The Negotiator Magazine

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Building and Maintaining Coalitions and AllegiancesThroughout Negotiations

By Lisa Bracken

Allegiances and coalitions can provide incredibly powerful leverage in negotiations. They are usually comprised of members with complimentary interests and, through their numbers, can collar the attentions of public officials and members of the media even when other efforts have failed to produce results. As helpful as they can be in negotiation, you'll want to be wary, however, of certain inherent aspects of coalition building and their maintenance that can become challenging under certain circumstances, and find ways of hedging against such occurrences. This article examines the dynamics of coalition building and offers tips on ways to start strong, stay strong and position yourself in a manner which preserves your influence within an alliance.

Thinking of building or joining a coalition? Consider these six essential aspects first.

In deciding whether to build, lead or simply participate in a coalition, the following six considerations can help guide your decision-making process, clarify your position within the coalition and manage the factors which drive coalition objectives.

  1. Identify the common objective.
    Does there appear to be a compelling and therefore, driving force behind the coalition which can act to unify its components as it moves forward toward its collective goal? Do you share in this objective? Do you share in the means and methods to achieve it? These can be points of contention among participating members, so isolating these issues and providing potential solutions for them in the beginning can help assure long range success.
  2. Determine how much influence you will have within the coalition.
    When your stake in the outcome of coalition objectives is high, you will want to exercise as much influence as possible, while participating in a cooperative manner and maintaining an objective perspective. This can be a difficult balancing act; yet, establishing yourself as a cornerstone whenever possible can make your participation in a coalition that much more valuable in negotiations. As a cornerstone, you will represent an anchoring and stabilizing presence within your coalition, and your participation will likely be consequential to any eventual outcome.
  3. Will you lead the charge, or are others willing to trumpet the common cause?
    Even if you have built or lead the coalition, and even if you are a cornerstone presence, to make it an effective power you must participate as a member and encourage others to bring their ideas, concerns, actions and resources to the process. This helps veil outside focus upon your involvement, which may be desirable in a high-profile situation. Further, mobilizing others behind a common ideal increases others' investment and participation in the group. To function effectively, coalitions must have real workers mobilized and active.
  4. Will you recognize if other participants have retreated behind you?
    By over-playing the role of cornerstone, you may fail to recognize when other members of the coalition have effectively edged you out or moved on without you. A failure to realize you are leading an army of one could be not only embarrassing but devastating to your negotiation position, and it's a development you definitely don't want to learn from your adversary. Although potentially fruitful time commitments, coalitions, nonetheless, require careful management to stay on target and remain effective.
  5. How will you control the communication of information?
    In all coalition meetings, it's wise to prepare for disclosed information to find its way into the media within 24 hours. If you have any information which is highly sensitive to public exposure, a coalition meeting is probably not the best place to disclose it. Determine initially what information is expected to be shared and judiciously manage it.
  6. Appreciating the coalition as a fragile and imperfect design.
    Coalitions are by their natures bound only by a few mutual objectives, and because individuals possess many interests and complex motives, it can be difficult to predict when unity has begun to weaken. Never depend upon a coalition to sustain cohesion. They have a habit of disintegrating at precisely the most personally vulnerable moment. If you know this at the outset, you can better prepare for the eventuality.

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March 2006