The Negotiator Magazine

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Common knowledge tells us that the well-studied track in negotiations focuses on the engagement of the participants in the substantive issues that have brought them to the table. Alas, the authors contend, this partial view misses the other critically important track that rests beneath the surface of every negotiation and thereby the true complexities of the negotiation process itself.

To understand negotiations fully, its participants must focus not only on the issues, but also upon "the shadow negotiation." It is here, Kolb and Williams assert, that "the parties decide between them whose interest and needs command attention, whose opinions matter, and how cooperative they are going to be in reaching an agreement" (p.12). Ignoring or being unaware of the importance of this ongoing negotiation that is decisive for the outcome of the substantive issues at the table, cripples the negotiator and the process.

The focus of this work is on understanding and actively managing this parallel process, "the shadow negotiation." It is a book designed to illuminate this neglected area of interaction and provide its readers with the ability to use strategies and tactics designed for successful negotiation on both parallel planes. Its goal is clear: to give the reader the skills "to direct the shadow negotiation to your advantage"(p.13).

Drs. Kolb and Williams begin their exploration of this relational negotiation with an inquiry into the private world of the negotiator’s assessment of the negotiation. Here, they examine assumptions and identify personal barriers that lead individuals into "acts of self-sabotage"(p.39). They explore "pitfalls" that cause individuals to discard or avoid the possibility of negotiations, misjudge the strengths and weakness of the parties or lead them into bargaining against themselves before even entering the arena.

The authors present solid suggestions on dealing with these negotiating demons. It is clear and straightforward advice blended and reinforced with carefully crafted illustrations of negotiating situations and dialogues. They are master storytellers and therefore talented teachers.

Having led the reader to encounter their negotiating dragons and hopefully to tame if not slay them, the authors move to the interactive dynamics of "the shadow negotiations" at the bargaining table. They examine strategies for positioning, techniques for directing the negotiation environment toward collaborative effort and methods for managing various forms of negotiating environments. It is solid and useable advice in every case.

Illustrative of their work, is a careful examination of strategies for establishing one’s position and defending it against strategic challenges by opponents that seek to discredit the negotiator and thereby the position they support on the substantive issues under discussion. We shall look briefly at their work on countering challenges by opponents as one example of their negotiation findings and strategic recommendations.

Challenges to a negotiator’ credibility are one of the most serious of matters any negotiator faces. Loss of this attribute is fatal in any negotiation. How does an advocate counter suggestions, no matter how subtle, that challenge their position? How does one deal with damaging suggestions about one’s motives, assertions of lack of support from those they represent, and attributions of personal limitations ranging from an inability to see "the big picture" through refusal to be a team-player to demeaning remarks about one’s person or group?

The authors correctly point out that strategic attacks of this nature must be countered immediately. They then present a well developed and effective strategy based upon a series of countermeasures to any attack that they call "responsive turns" (p.123).

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