The Negotiator Magazine

Back to Index

1  2  3  4  next

Managing the Shadow Negotiation

Deborah M. Kolb, Carol Frohlinger, and Judith Williams 1

Negotiation was once considered an art practiced by the naturally gifted. To some extent it still is, but increasingly we in the business world have come to regard negotiation as a science-built on creative approaches to deal making that allow everyone to walk away winners of sorts. Most business people have become experts at “getting to yes,” as the now-familiar terminology goes.

Nevertheless some negotiations stall or, worse, never get off the ground. A deal or sale you were counting on does not come through. Why?

The Shadow Negotiation

There are often quite practical reasons. But our recent research suggests that the answers also lie in a dynamic we have come to call the “shadow negotiation”-the complex and subtle game people play before the get to the table and continue to play after they arrive. The shadow negotiation doesn’t determine the what of the discussion, but the how. Which interests will hold sway? Will the conversation’s tone be adversarial or cooperative? Whose opinions will be heard? In short, how will the bargainers deal with each other?

The shadow negotiation is most obvious when the participants hold unequal power-and But even when the bargainers meet as equals, a negotiation can be blocked or stall-undermined by hidden assumptions, unrealistic expectations, or personal histories. An unexamined shadow negotiation can lead to silence, not satisfaction, and do real damage to the bottom line.

1  2  3  4  next

Back to Index

1 This article was adapted from “Breakthrough Bargaining,” by Deborah M. Kolb and Judith Williams, which appeared in the February 2001 issue of the Harvard Business Review. It draws on Kolb and Williams’ The Shadow Negotiation: How Women Can Master the Hidden Agendas That Determine Bargaining Success (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), named one of the top ten business books of 2000 by HBR.

Deborah M. Kolb, Carol Frohlinger, and Judith Williams are partners in The Shadow Negotiation, LLC, a company that will provides negotiation courses specifically for women on the Web. The first course, Getting What You’re Worth, is available now. Navigating Divorce, Making the Sale and Setting Fees are planned for 2002.

Visit their website at

Deborah M. Kolb is professor of management at the Simmons College Graduate School of Management in Boston and codirector of its Center for Gender in Organization. She is a former executive director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, where she continues as codirector of the Negotiations in the Workplace Project.

Carol Frohlinger is president of Crossell, Inc., a consulting and training company focused on helping to advance women in business. Frohlinger has over 15 years’ experience consulting to major corporations on performance improvement, both developing course materials and leading training initiatives. A former practicing attorney, she holds a J.D. from Fordham University.

Judith Williams has worked in publishing and investment banking. In 1990 she left the private sector to establish a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the study of organizational change and how women can promote it. She holds a Ph.D. from Harvard