Not all books on negotiation skills cover how to handle internal dissension or conflict during important negotiations. There’s a reason we included it as the third of K&R’s Six Principles™ of Negotiation: A team divided is a costly team.
Here is an example of how one of our seasoned negotiation consultants, “Hank,” handled a very difficult situation with a member of his own team before joining us at K&R.
Hank’s client had put together a strong team to negotiate a deal with an Israeli company. This was one of his client’s biggest deals ever in the country; huge commissions were riding on it. The client had a local negotiator in Israel who was very talented, but also very strong-willed. We’ll call him “Attila.” As a result of his inability to be flexible when necessary, the deal was stalling. Hank was called in to take over the lead negotiator role.
Hank met with the entire client team in Israel. After assessing the situation, he formulated an updated negotiation strategy. It was clearly explained to Attila that Hank was now in charge and that Attila would take the important second chair. When conducting our meetings with the customer, all information was to be funneled through Hank. Attila agreed to this approach. On the way to the first meeting, Attila was reminded that he had an important role—to cover the financials—but that Hank would take the lead. It was repeated four times. Attila agreed four times.
We walked into the meeting room and Attila sat four seats away from Hank despite the explicit understanding that Attila was to man the second chair. Hank’s team sat down anyway and explained the roles of everybody from their team.
Just a few minutes after the other side’s lead negotiator began speaking, Attila interrupted him. Hank stopped him after a few words, politely explaining that our client was speaking and not to interrupt him. A few minutes later, Attila interrupted the client again. The third time he did it, Hank stopped him at the first word. Attila jumped up and stormed out of the room. Attila did not yet know Hank’s approach or skills well enough; he also had a huge commission riding on the outcome. Nonetheless, we had to manage this internal conflict to not only keep order and focus, but maintain credibility with the other side and the rest of our team.
The team across the table smiled when they saw that Hank and his team were going to proceed without Attila. As negotiations unfolded over the following days, Attila was kept in the loop as to the latest developments, but out of the meetings. Over this time, Attila realized he was wrong and overcame his misgivings about Hank’s approach to the process. The following week, Attila was ready to rejoin the meetings. He lent his particular expertise and helped the team close the deal.
While this situation was awkward, we had to stick to rules and expectations as communicated. This preserved our credibility with the client. Even Attila became our ally when he saw that we were negotiating wisely.
It is the lead negotiator’s job to set rules while reconciling individual and team goals. As this story illustrates, you must negotiate to individual motivations both internally and externally. It is essential that you and your team present a unified voice to the other side. Get those internal conflicts resolved first, or you are not ready to engage the other side in negotiation.