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The Essential Role of Preparation in Establishing Complex Negotiation Goals

By John D. Baker

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In its most basic definition, negotiation is the process of interaction between two or more parties to accomplish a particular end(s) or goal(s). Far too often, the goal or goals of the enterprise are poorly defined by the parties represented, their negotiators, and the evaluators of the completed process. This “goal fog” is one of the significant causes of failures in the three major measures of the success of negotiation effort: Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Ethics. The root of this major flaw is many-faceted, but its core is usually the result of inadequate planning. It is, therefore, fixable.

Planning is too often minimal when it needs to be central to the negotiator’s success. “Winging it,” the cry of some negotiators who conduct the process from a briefly scanned file folder and a “one-size fits all” approach, works ‘well-enough’ in the view of some experienced negotiators in simple negotiation cases. Generally, of course, the chosen approach is positional as a necessary time-saver for a hurried and unprepared negotiator. Is it efficient? Is it effective? Is it ethical? The answers to all these questions are couched in the little-prepared negotiator’s guiding principle; “well-enough.”

Complex negotiating situations are quite different. For these, careful planning is essential to achieve the most efficient, effective, and ethical agreement possible from the process. Without it, the results may be “well-enough,” but the investment of resources into the process is unlikely to maximize their potential return. Worse yet in the under-prepared negotiation is the cost of unexplored opportunities, relationships, and commitments to fulfillment of the deal itself. Let us see why this is so.

Effectiveness is only measurable by having clearly stated goals both at the beginning and the ending of the negotiation. Effectiveness is also not just the achievement of those goals at the bargaining table, but also the successful implementation of the agreement. At its heart effectiveness means building better long-term relationships with the negotiating partner and with one’s own entity which provide fulfillment of this agreement and future innovation opportunities.

Some negotiations are inherently complex because they must reflect the goals required by a multitude of constituencies. Without identifying and caring for the needs and expectations of all key stakeholders in the outcome and/or commitment to agreement goals, however, even the most certain of “done deals” generated through complex negotiations may be condemned to either wither or die. Let me cite some brief examples to illustrate this point.

Without top-management buy-in due to a lack of treatment or a misperception of negotiated goals or terms, organizational commitment and resource allocations to implement or carry-out agreement terms may simply not happen despite penalties and promises. Withdrawal of institutional support is a death-knell to any agreement.

Misstatement or the neglect of essential goals in an agreement either by design or by accident to the members of an organization that the negotiation was intended to serve may not only produce a vote to reject the agreement, but may destroy credibility in the negotiating parties as well as the organizational leadership.

Failure to include goals demanded by support leadership in agreements may well lead to the need for after-the-fact internal negotiations to try to achieve already given promises in the agreement and may make the implementation more costly if not impossible to accomplish as agreed.

Political and government regulatory concerns must be central in many negotiations. Goals that do not take into account these powerful forces may well create either lengthy delays in approvals or require significant change or even abandonment of the project.

Lastly, in this list of goal claimants, every negotiator must recognize the role of media, public opinion and ethics in any agreement. Negotiating agreements that include such elements as child or slave labor, unhealthy environmental impacts, or illegal activity by either your organization or a negotiating partner is to invite condemnation and public relations nightmares.

Goals in complex negotiations must be comprehensive, inclusive, and socially responsible. It is up to the negotiator to assure that mix is a part of every complex agreement. Thorough goal preparation is essential to accomplish that fundamental objective.

John Baker is the Editor of The Negotiator Magazine, the regular author of its monthly Reader’s Review and an occasional contributor to the magazine’s articles. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright © 2012 John D. Baker
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (March, 2012)