Negotiators use Agendas, Hidden and Apparent

There are two types of agendas. Those that are public and set the course of a meeting and those that are hidden and guide the actual progress of the session. Uncovering hidden agendas is an important aspect in any negotiation or mediation.

It is the hidden agendas that truly impact how a settlement conference will proceed.

Controlling a meeting is key to controlling a negotiation. Managing the agenda establishes this control. Mediators garner their power as they control what happens, when it happens and where it happens during a settlement conference. They have the ability to call for caucus sessions, quiz both sides, and dictate certain rules. This often gives them the cloak of authority to get the parties to move toward reconciliation.

Hidden agendas, on the other hand, are what skilled negotiators use to manage the process as the informal group leader.

There are likely many hidden agendas at play during any negotiating session. Those of the primary negotiators and those of the other participants in the room. Each person is likely to have a personal agenda that differs slightly from their own teammates. Uncovering and capitalizing on the disparity of these agendas can be useful to a negotiator.

How does one uncover another's hidden agenda? By being a good detective:

1. Ask questions soliciting the other person's needs and wants.

2. Ask follow-up questions designed to cross check previous answers.

3. Seek similar responses from other members of the other negotiating team.

4. Feel free to question the responses.

5. Press to discover why the individual sitting across from you feels that way; as opposed to why his company or client may feel a certain way.

6. Identify if there are personal needs that are in conflict or amplify the stated objectives of the otherside.

7. Seek to discover if the real decision maker is at the table or available to be reached for input or decisions.

8. Gather and digest the responses to create the 'fabric' of the other side's basic needs and stated wants regarding the situation.

9. Observe non-verbal reaction that may indicate responses are less than forthright.

Negotiation is far more than simply sitting at the table and exchanging proposals. It is the art form of learning enough about the other person to be able to engage him or her in a dialogue that makes them want to work with you. Without absolute power, your primary agenda is to uncover enough about the other person to be able to manage the discussion toward satisfying your needs.