Often, when we talk about negotiation, we do so in reference to two parties collaborating to find a common solution. Though this is certainly the nature of some negotiations, many times, negotiators have to deal with more than one other person. Multiparty negotiations are exceedingly common, and it is important to understand them if you wish to be a successful negotiator.
Though the concept of several parties negotiating together may seem straightforward, in reality, it can be very complicated. Many of the defining factors of the negotiation are multiplied, making solutions more complicated and intricate. In order to meet everyone’s goals and respect all parties’ boundaries, negotiators must think especially creatively to find a solution.
Regardless of where you are in your negotiating journey, it is important to understand and be prepared for multiparty negotiation. Often, these negotiations yield significant results, and those who are untrained in this area lose opportunities for their company.
If you are new to multiparty negotiation or wish to refresh your expertise in this area, we will walk you through all of the basics, concepts, concerns, challenges, and advantages of multiparty negotiation to ensure that you are prepared to take the next step on your negotiating path.
What Is Multiparty Negotiation?
At its core, multiparty negotiation is any negotiation process that involves three or more individuals representing different interests. Please note that having three people involved in a negotiation does not necessarily constitute a multiparty setup if two people are negotiating for the same company or toward the same end. In order for the requirements for multiparty negotiation to be met, there must be at least three or more people advocating for unique perspectives.
There are some basic similarities that exist between multiparty negotiation and two-party negotiations that can help to root your understanding of the concept. The similarities are:
- The need to uncover values
- The objective to create value
- The necessity of collaborative problem solving
- The importance of identifying and clarifying the interests of both parties
This small list of similarities is just as essential in multiparty negotiations as they are in two-party ones.
Unique Features of Multiparty Negotiation
Of course, there are many ways that multiparty negotiation is distinct from two-party negotiations. These differences encompass many of the new skills you can learn from mastering the former.
Key features of a multiparty negotiation include:
- All parties need to spend significantly more time doing work away from the negotiations. You will need to do research and develop strategies outside of the negotiation room.
- The interactions involved in the negotiations become multifaceted and inherently more complicated because there are more factors and people involved.
- Potential for some parties to make agreements that exclude other parties if it suits their interests to do so.
- External factors become increasingly important, including a company’s political stance, values, etc.
- Role confusion is common.
- Increased opportunities for trade-offs.
- Added creativity and expertise available in the conversation with more parties involved.
This is a simple summary of some of the ways that multiparty negotiation is different from two-party negotiations. It is important to be aware of these changes as you delve deeper into the multiparty format.
Making Interests Known
When you are negotiating one-on-one with another party, it is difficult to proceed without understanding the other party’s needs and interests. However, it is fairly easy to miss this key information when there are several groups negotiating together. To facilitate an effective multiparty negotiation, it is important that you understand all other parties’ interests and ensure that they understand yours.
Many times, parties in multiparty negotiations feel as though they cannot make their voices heard. There are so many other people speaking to their own interests or discussing terms that it can be difficult to break through the noise to make a point or state your interest. When you engage in this type of negotiation, it is helpful to create a communication system that allows all members of the negotiation to speak.
Preparation is a key part of understanding other parties’ interests as well. When you enter negotiations, you may definitively know some of the other parties’ objectives. You likely also have assumptions about what they need or want. Be sure to note all of this information while separating your assumptions from the facts. Viewing your own conclusions as fact is dangerous and often prevents successful negotiations.
When you have multiple parties negotiating, there is the opportunity to form alliances with certain members or groups. This is especially easy if you find that another party’s goals align with your own. Joining together can strengthen your argument and give you an advantage in negotiations. Think of a negotiation alliance as a kind of workers’ union. If an opponent wants either one of you to agree with them, they will have to accommodate both of you. Alliances are not simply advantageous; they are often necessary for multiparty negotiations.
You can use an affinity map to create beneficial alliances in your negotiations. This tool groups parties together based on certain similarities. For example, let’s say that you are negotiating a new business-to-business partnership with four other parties. Three total groups are for the partnership, while two are against it. Forming an alliance with the other groups that take your general position can help you to narrow down your negotiations. Though you may not share all of the same opinions, you do have the same general perspective and can always negotiate specific terms from there.
Stages of Multiparty Negotiation
There are three stages of multiparty negotiation. Understanding these stages can help you to anticipate the flow of the process and prepare for possible outcomes.
During the pre-negotiation stage, the group determines who will be part of the negotiations. In many situations, parties solidify their roles during this stage. Groups may form coalitions during this time as well.
During pre-negotiation, it is essential that you define your boundaries, objectives, and requirements. Your ZOPA, or zone of possible agreement, and BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement, are crucial to your success in negotiations, especially multiparty negotiations. By having this information prepared, you can make educated decisions as the negotiations progress. It is also a good idea to share your ZOPA at the beginning of negotiations and listen to other parties’ boundaries as well. This can guide your conversation and prevent you from entertaining possibilities that are outside the ZOPA of other parties. Check our post 5 Best Negotiation Tools for more information about these concepts.
This stage is where the negotiation actually happens. With multiparty negotiations, it is usually important to have a moderator who can help to facilitate the conversation and make sure that everyone’s voices are heard. Without a chairman or moderator present, it is easy for certain parties to dominate the conversation and for others to remain unheard.
In multiparty negotiations, the moderator should set an agenda to keep the process on track. You may use tools such as breakout brainstorming sessions, surveys, and other methods to come up with potential solutions.
Finally, it is important that the moderator is confident in conflict resolution, as it is natural for arguments and conflicts to arise with so many perspectives. The moderator may need to remind feuding parties of the rules of respect and courtesy that go with negotiations. Though passions may be high, there should be an air of mutual respect at all times.
Agreement or Solution
When the negotiations are through, the group can select a plan, solution, or agreement that works for the given situation. It is important that the solution comes with an action plan and a method of implementation so that there is a map for how to move forward. If these things have not been discussed, it may be difficult to implement the changes that the groups agreed upon during negotiations.
Communication in Multiparty Negotiations
Communication is key for any negotiations, especially when there are many different parties involved. Without proper communication, it will be nearly impossible to come to a conclusion or create meaningful solutions.
In most multiparty negotiations, smaller coalitions will form based on similar interests or objectives. Communication within these coalitions is essential to ensure that interests do not change and groups remain loyal to their shared cause.
Whether you are acting alone or within a coalition, the following communication tips can help you to be more successful.
Though listening may seem like an obvious part of negotiations, many people do not do it properly. In fact, many negotiators are so stuck in their own ideas that they anticipate their next argument or statement while someone else is talking. Instead, write down any thoughts you have and focus wholly on the other people who are talking. This gives you the ability to truly understand what they are saying and avoid any confusion or repeat comments throughout the process.
Listening also allows you to address the points that other parties make, which shows respect and facilitates stronger results.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of multiparty negotiations is the additional ideas and solutions that come up. You should enter these conversations with an open mind and remember that creative solutions can come from anywhere. If you are open to new ideas, you are open to solutions that you may not have come up with on your own. This is the essence of negotiation, and flexibility is essential to the creative process.
It can be easy to criticize others, especially if you feel you are being attacked or others believe that your point is not valid. If you do have a critical point, be sure that you present it constructively and respectfully. It is not worth losing allies because you made a comment in the heat of the moment. Instead, offer your criticism in tandem with productive solutions. For example, saying something like, “I don’t think X is realistic, but I do like Y part of your idea. Perhaps we can explore Y further, in tandem with Z.” This is not only more productive than simple criticism, it furthers the negotiations and helps you come to a conclusion that you both agree upon.
Pre-Select Problem-Solving Methods
When you approach a problem in your negotiations, it is easiest to overcome the issue if you have a plan in place for problem solving. Not only does this make the problem seem easier to solve, but it also expedites the process of solving it.
If you have a mediator involved, they will likely have a plan for overcoming obstacles and issues.
Contact Shapiro Negotiations Institute
Honing your multiparty negotiation skills is a lifelong process that requires adaptation, training, and ongoing education. At Shapiro Negotiations Institute, we are proud to provide industry-leading negotiation training to businesses and executives from all industries.
If you would like to learn more about negotiation training, Shapiro Negotiations Institute, or a related topic, please contact Shapiro Negotiations Institute online today.