Group Dynamics in Negotiations

People seldom act alone. Everyone has a group of associates or family members that need to be at the least informed of important decisions before a commitment is made. More often, prior approval is needed. This approval may be from a family member to keep the peace at home or from a corporate superior or oversight committee having the actual authority to bind the company.

When the group is involved in the negotiation process becomes much more challenging. The group has its own structure and objectives. Individual members of the group will typically have differing personal objectives and opinions. The negotiators challenge is to decipher the leaders in the group and the protagonists. Each will have to be dealt with to achieve an agreement that will survive the test of time.

The best way to find the decision makers or leaders within an opposing group is to discuss various aspects of the situation. Listening to each member's dialogue, content and, equally import, to whom they address their remarks no verbally. Look for glances or a change in their sitting position as an indication that they are watching how someone in their own group is reacting to their remarks. This differential habit will reveal where they stand on their team.

It is important to 'hear' the content and observe the delivery. A CFO can speak in deference to his CEO but the message can carry the import of the Board of Directors. Conversely, others speak to be heard and recognized by those in power. Differentiating those who want power and those who enjoy it will improve your ability to target the right person with whom to forge a consensus.

Group negotiations are most challenged when there are opposing views and power factions within the group. As an outsider and the 'opposition' it helps to ferret out such discord to decide if the group can reach an accord or if you are wasting your time and theirs.

When you run into a fractured opposing group dynamic you may be able to divide and conquer. But such power tactics have their limits:

• Pushing the primary negotiator to make a commitment contrary to the rest of his team may be successful during the meeting but fall apart as soon as the meeting ends and his or her associates speak up in private.

• Pressing too soon may cause the other team to postpone making any decision until they can agree among themselves thereby costing you the benefit of their fractionalization.

• Choosing the wrong negotiator to whom to play may back fire when the real power on the team emerges in opposition to the way you have lead the discussion.

The best advice when facing a dysfunctional team of negotiators is to go slow, increase your awareness of non-verbal signals and verbal intonations, and pace yourself not to be overcome by the varied and oblique affronts frequently used in group negotiations, and keep the discussion focused on where you want it to go. Don't let it become distracted or fragmented by allowing everyone on the other side to derail the process by talking just to be heard.

Strong negotiators must also be strong leaders. Controlling the content of the meeting and the direction of the discussion comes from the deft application of informal leadership skills. Sharpen these skills and you will improve your negotiating results.