Internal Negotiations: The Key to Success in External Negotiations

March 10, 2015 By Irma Tyler Wood

Often I begin a negotiation workshop or consulting session by asking participants to map out the people within their organizations with whom they must negotiate to do their jobs effectively.  I also ask them to map out the parties they must engage in their external negotiations, i.e., clients, customers, regulatory agencies, etc.  Then I ask, which set of negotiations are most difficult, internal or external?  Invariably, more people say that their internal negotiations are more difficult.
Negotiation Best Practices (Internal Negotiations)Although this answer may seem counterintuitive, my experience is that they are correct.  Internal negotiations are more difficult than external negotiations.  In addition, there is a direct correlation between success in internal negotiations and one’s ability to succeed in external negotiations.  Why would negotiations with people on your team, who work for the same organization you do and share the same goals, be more challenging than negotiating with a customer, client or regulatory agency?
This month’s blog will examine why internal negotiations are often more difficult than negotiations with outsiders and suggest some ways to improve the process and results of internal negotiations.  There are three main reasons internal negotiations are more difficult: 1) A failure to test assumptions people make about internal negotiations, 2) Lack of preparation for internal negotiations, and 3) The lack of a common, internal process or negotiation infrastructure for conducting important negotiations.
  1. A Failure to Test Assumptions: Assumptions are those things negotiators believe to be true without having tested their validity.  Too often negotiators assume that because they work for the same organization, are, “all on the same team,” and have the same overall goals, internal negotiations will be easy.  However, within a single department, let alone across an entire organization, there are likely to be conflicting goals, conflicting priorities, and conflicting ways of being rewarded.  When that gets coupled with a lack of direct authority over many of the people one must negotiate with, internal negotiations can be quite challenging.  Even if a department or individual within your company shares your goals, they may not share your priorities.  Or if they share your goals and priorities, competing commitments may mean that he/she can’t honor the schedule you want for the negotiations.  A negotiator may assume that negotiation goals and strategy have been communicated, internally, when often they have not.  A negotiator must see as his first task gaining and building internal alignment about the goals, strategy and desired outcomes for any major negotiation by testing assumptions with key stakeholders.
  2. Lack of Preparation: When negotiating with someone outside the company, organizations and individuals often spend a great deal of time preparing for those negotiations.  A sales person might spend weeks or months preparing to negotiate with a major customer.  A union president will spend months mapping strategy for upcoming contract negotiations.  When, however, an individual gets a call to meet with the boss to discuss upcoming negotiations, rarely will they see that meeting as a negotiation in and of itself.  Thus they often walk in unprepared or prepared to sell their answer or strategy without understanding the boss’s interests, concerns and goals.  We would argue that before developing a strategy, an effective negotiator must identify the key internal and external stakeholders and begin the negotiation process by sitting down with them one-on-one or in small groups to ask, elicit their interests, and brainstorm possible options for the upcoming negotiations.  Utilizing the Seven Element Framework© to structure those meetings can be a very effective way to gain internal alignment.
  3. Lack of a common process or negotiation infrastructure within the organization: All too often the organization has no negotiation infrastructure.  There is no common process, for how one goes about preparing for, conducting and reviewing negotiations.  Too often, that is left to the initiative and skill of the individual who will be doing the negotiations; thus each person or department does its own thing.  No organizational process or structure is in place to insure thorough preparation for the negotiations or that a strategic review of the results occurs.  No autopsies of failed negotiations are done and the lessons from failures and successes are rarely recorded or shared with the entire team, let alone the entire organization.  There is no process to insure that the organization transfers the skills and tools of effective negotiation to its experienced or new employees.  There is no common vocabulary or process for conducting negotiations.  The two people on the same team may not only have very different expectations and level of skill in the negotiation process, they may not even speak the same negotiation language.
Organizations must build a negotiation infrastructure that creates a common language and process for negotiations, and a common process and structure for conducting, reviewing and learning from their negotiations.  Otherwise, enormous amounts of time and money will be wasted and valuable lessons and knowledge will go unshared.  If your organization wants more information about how to improve your internal negotiation process, click on the contact us button on our website.