As we start to consider a mass vaccination way of life and a new managed COVID normal, most organisations will want to return to conducting some of their negotiations face to face. Complex agreements routinely benefit from subtle and spontaneous interactions in and around the negotiation space. The ability to observe participants who aren’t in the camera’s focus can be priceless, as can the informal signalling interaction between participants which usually occurs during breaks or meals.
There may be a temptation for some leaders, given the improving performance of telecommunication tools, to use them to be involved in negotiations, even when they are conducted in a remote location. Everyone is more comfortable using these tools given the COVID experience, so what busy executive wouldn’t want to cut their time spent on travel, reduce costs and still be close to the action? On the downside, how do we avoid the perception the team on the spot doesn't have the authority to make the deal or try as leaders to be too involved in the minutiae without having the insights from being present? So, what is the right level of executive involvement?
As is the case with so many things in negotiation, the answers lay in the preparation phase. How important and complex is the negotiation really? Is the business novel to any of the parties to the negotiation or is there any genuine uncertainty in the outcomes? Do the parties have a prior relationship and if so of what nature? An effective preparation phase for a complex negotiation will not only consider the negotiation goals and limits, but will establish your negotiation team's composition and roles in appropriate detail. The negotiation goals and our assessment of our counterparts' needs should give us a sense of the negotiation complexity, against which to judge the fitness of our own team. Building on that assessment, what does that suggest they might need in the way of executive input once the negotiations are afoot...
As a general rule, where a designated negotiation team engages in person with counterparts, we should strive to empower them to the maximum extent possible. Experienced leaders recognise that they should manage the negotiation team composition, goals and ground rules, while striving not to be unreasonably intrusive during the actual negotiation conduct! Make sure that you have a clear appreciation up front of your organisation's goals and limits, and an agreed approach for the team leader to seek additional guidance.
There is a useful level of engagement where teams need assistance reacting to completely unforeseen positions or issues from their counterparts, and there may be a place for some one-on-one coaching of the team leaders, but this can be a challenge to maintaining the necessary objectivity on the emerging negotiation outcomes. This balance is sometimes difficult, as we all have complex accountabilities that may tempt us to personal engagement. Alternatively, we may develop misgivings about the fitness of the negotiation team of the task. Using telecommunications in a deliberate way, to get progress updates from the negotiation team, address significant pop-up issues or to discretely support a team leader in the field on a back channel are all important parts of the executive negotiator's skillset.
Scotwork recognises these leader's dilemmas, with the Advancing Negotiation Skills course addressing the key ideas for negotiation leadership. The Scotwork Strategic Negotiating course is dedicated to preparing experienced leaders develop organisational and personal negotiating leadership and capability. Alternatively, you could consider providing your negotiation team with one of Scotwork’s specialist coaches, providing support and performance assurance on the spot when you can't be there or shouldn't be engaged at that level of detail.