Layered Barriers To Communications

When you come across a tribe of headhunters it is wise to make sure the person you are bartering with is the one who plans the dinner menu.

Other than on playgrounds most negotiations are not one-on-one situations.

-In the business environment it is typical that at least one of the parties is an employee of a company. As such, that person is burdened with a hierarchy of approval rights. It is typical for both parties to have the same burden of needing the approval of others before being able to fully commit to an agreement.

-In family disputes there may be spouses or other family members who have a voice in any agreement.

-In mediation settings there may be spouses, insurance companies or other entities that must be part of the final approval of any accord.

Part of the initial phase of any negotiation is to establish who the decision making authority is for the other party. In the case of a mediation, each of the parties may present layered authority issues.

Most people will reveal their lack of authority only if asked directly if they need someone else's consent. The human ego is typically fragile and to admit dependence is sometimes hard to do. The inclination is to personalize the situation. It is up to the negotiator or mediator to peel away the posturing and determine who the actual decision makers are. In the case of a mediation, the mediator needs to gain access to the decision maker. That may mean asking the person to attend or at least making sure he or she is available by telephone to confer and when appropriate, consent to an agreement if one is reached.

Layered approval structures create barriers to clear communication. Actual decision makers must rely on the interpretations of their delegatees as to the dynamics of the discussions. Each person between the decision makers unconsciously or consciously alter the message. Individuals have their respective filters that alter what they hear.

Consider a corporate negotiation. When dealing with a company or corporation, each person within the organization has his or her own set of filters. They each adjust what they hear. For example, the CEO has a long-range perspective, the CFO is concerned about quarterly earnings and cash flow, the VP of Real Estate is concerned about opening new locations to meet his or her budget and the real estate manager is worried about making his bonus. In addition, each has a personal agenda caused by personal issues such as meeting mortgage payments, college costs, a pending divorce or marraige, or retirement planning. In this scenario, it might be that the real estate manager is really trying to maximize his bonus by chasing any location that presents itself. The CFO is feeling the pressure of lagging sales and has been talking to the CEO about the need to slow development or actually retrench. And the CEO is contemplating a sale or merger that is based on growth through new locations. How is a landlord/owner supposed to know how to negotiate with the company when there are internal conflicts within the corporate culture? How will his message be altered before it reaches the CEO.

Layered barriers in a negotiation require aggressive communication countermeasures to insure that your message is being heard. Possible counter-measures include:

-Put all critical communications in writing. This way, those involved on the other side will at least be able to refer to your written message.

-Copy everyone possible on the communication to make sure it is shared.

-Pick up the phone and call the decision maker to simply inform him of the progress being made and see if there are questions you can answer.

-Refuse to negotiate further unless you have access to the other decision maker.

Negotiating is an exercise in communications. Layered negotiations poses a normal challenge until you gain access to the right person with whom to deal. A standard negotiating strategy is to try to keep key decision makers out of the room so they can assess the situation without the pressure to respond immediately. Take the time before negotiations commence to find out who is involved in the approval process and seek to work with the highest person you can reach.