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Stages of a Multiparty Negotiation

How does one manage the various stages of a multiparty negotiation?

The Pre-negotiation Stage is the first stage of a multi-party negotiation. It is characterized by a lot of informal contact among the parties. The parties must make numerous decisions during this stage including:

  • Participants – The parties must agree on who is going to be invited to the talks.
  • Coalitions – Coalitions may exist before negotiations begin. In some cases, the negotiations will seek to form or organize a coalition in anticipation of the meeting of all the parties.
  • Defining group member roles – Once participants are identified and coalitions formed, the participants will begin assuming and assigning roles in the negotiation. Three types of roles that members might play include:
    • Task Role – This role moves the group along toward a decision or conclusion;
    • Relationship Role – This role manages and sustains good relationships between group members; and
    • Self-oriented Role – This role serves to bring attention to the individual group member and is often at the expense of group effectiveness.
  • Understanding the costs and consequences of no agreement – In multiparty negotiations, the perceptual biases that negotiators are prone to, are likely to affect negotiators by inflating their sense of power and ability to win. This may lead them to believe that the no-agreement alternative is much better than it really is.
  • Learning the issues and constructing an agenda – There are many reasons why an agenda can be an effective decision aid. It establishes the issues that will be discussed. Depending on how the issues are worded, it can also define how each issue is discussed and the order of discussion. It can be used to introduce process issues as well as substantive issues, simply by including them. It can assign time limits to various items, thereby indicating the importance of the different issues.

The Formal Negotiation Stage concerns managing the group process and outcome, including:

  • Agenda – Appoint an appropriate chair and structure the agenda.
  • Information – Ensure a diversity of information and perspectives.  Ensure consideration of all the available information. Bazerman, Mannix, and Thompson (1988) reviewed several group decision-making and brainstorming techniques that are frequently used to achieve this objective.
    • The Delphi technique – a moderator structures an initial questionnaire and sends it out to all parties, asking for input.
    • Brainstorming – parties are instructed to define a problem and then to generate as many solutions as possible without criticizing any of them.
    • Nominal group technique – typically follows brainstorming.
  • Manage conflict effectively – groups must generate many ideas and approaches to a problem—which usually creates conflict—while not allowing that conflict to either disrupt the information flow or create personal animosity. Manz, Neck, Mancuso, and Manz (1997) suggest key process steps that a chair can implement to assure having an effective, amicable disagreement on a team:
    • Collect your thoughts and composure before speaking.
    • Try to understand the other person’s position.
    • Try to think of ways that you both can win.
    • Consider how important this issue is to you.
    • Remember that you will probably have to work together with these people in the future.
  • Review and manage the decision rules – the parties also need to manage the decision rules—that is, the way the group will decide what to do (Brett, 1991).
  • Strive for a first agreement – consensus or the best quality solution, negotiators should not strive to achieve it all at once.
  • Manage problem team members – Manz et. al (1997) suggest the following tactics for dealing with problem team members:
    • Be specific about the problem behavior—offer clear, specific examples.
    • Phrase the problem as one that is affecting the entire team, rather than just you.
    • Focus on behaviors the other can control.
    • Wait to give constructive criticism until the individual can truly hear and accept it.
    • Keep feedback professional. Use a civil tone and describe the offending behavior and its impact specifically.
    • Make sure the other has heard and understood your comments.
  • Manage Group Norms – Group norms can undermine an effective discussion in the following ways:
    • Unwillingness to tolerate conflicting points of view and perspectives.
    • Side conversations.
    • No means for defusing an emotionally charged discussion.
    • Coming to a meeting unprepared.

The Agreement Stage of a negotiation is when the parties must select among the alternatives on the table, develop an action plan, implement the selected plan, and then evaluate the process and outcomes.  Generally, the lead or chair of the negotiation can take the following steps to facilitate the process:

  • Move the group toward selecting one or more of the options.
  • Shape and draft the tentative agreement.
  • Discuss whatever implementation and follow-up or next steps need to occur.
  • Thank the group for their participation, their hard work, and their efforts.
  • Organize and facilitate the postmortem.

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