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  • Writer's pictureMarc Saris

Navigating the Complexities of Internal Negotiations

Updated: Jul 2

Struggling with getting your colleagues’ support? Frustrated with intercompany competition? Disappointed in the speed of the decision making? Distrusting colleagues? In case you have experienced any of the above struggles then the root cause may lie with you, and your approach to internal negotiations.

Internal negotiations focus on exploring and managing the complex layers of organizational dynamics and are less straightforward then external facing commercial negotiations. Many skilled negotiators admit to finding these internal discussions more challenging than negotiations with external parties. The fact is that external negotiations and internal ones are inherently different and require a professional understanding on how to navigate. Being a great external negotiator is not a guarantee for success in terms of internal negotiations or vice versa.

Why Internal Negotiation Matters

Before or during a negotiation held with an external party (supplier or customer) a negotiator often needs to handle several internal negotiations. These internal discussions can vary in their complexity and the number of colleagues involved, particularly in transactions that cover multiple regions or different parts of the organization.

Having strong skills in internal negotiation is key because they help a negotiator with their external negotiation by being able to have a wider mandate and thus more flexibility towards the end, resulting in higher value deals. On the other hand, poor skills in internal negotiation can lead to a limited mandate and a restrictive approach in external negotiations, reducing the negotiator's flexibility and creativity. This lack of adaptability can interfere with their ability to create deals that add value and strengthen their position in negotiations with external parties.

In addition to affecting external negotiations, internal negotiations are crucial for your everyday job performance and career advancement. Well-developed internal negotiation skills are a significant asset in your career, whether you work in a commercial role or not. So, what are some common mistakes people make in internal negotiations?

Pitfalls of Internal Negotiations

Lack of Preparation: Internal negotiations often don't get the same attention and preparation as external ones. This usually happens because these internal discussions aren't recognized as negotiations. Without seeing these situations as opportunities to negotiate, people don't prepare properly, which can lead to ineffective meetings.

Not Recognizing Internal Negotiations: Many meetings within companies involve decisions that need everyone's agreement. These are actually negotiations and should be treated as such. If these meetings aren't seen as negotiations, they may not be structured properly to achieve the best outcomes.

Missing Key Stakeholders: Effective internal negotiations often require talking to many different people in the organization. If someone important is left out early on, they might block or disagree with the decisions later, causing delays and forcing everyone to revisit earlier agreements.

Informal Agreements: When negotiating with external parties, agreements are usually put into writing and formally signed. Internally, this formality is often missing, which can lead to misunderstandings and disputes later because the terms weren’t clearly recorded.

Competing Interests: Different departments within a company may have different goals and ways of achieving them. Although all departments aim to support the company’s overall strategy, their different approaches can lead to disagreements that make internal negotiations challenging.

No Alternatives: In external negotiations, negotiators often have several options to help them achieve their goals. In internal negotiations, they might depend on specific colleagues who don’t see the benefits of working together, which can stop progress towards shared goals.

Company Culture: Is key in stetting the foundation for effective internal negotiations. If a company’s culture is characterized by a blame culture for instance, internal negotiations can become particularly challenging. When the prevailing atmosphere focuses on assigning fault rather than problem-solving, individuals may become defensive and less willing to collaborate or share responsibility. This defensive stance can lead to a lack of openness and trust among team members, as each person might prioritize protecting themselves overreaching a mutually beneficial outcome.

So how to improve your own internal negotiation capabilities

The reality is that internal negotiation skills lean more towards political negotiation skills than commercial negotiation skills, and yes there is a difference! There are key attributes that make political negotiators great, and if you start applying them to your internal negotiations you will see drastic improvements in collaboration. It may then not come as a surprise that internal negotiations often require a collaborative negotiation approach.

Preparation: Like external negotiations, internal meetings need thorough preparation. Simply showing up and sharing your ideas won’t be enough. You need to come prepared as you would for an external deal.

Interests: It's crucial to understand your colleagues' needs and interests. Consider what they gain from your proposal and how it affects them. Could it mean more work for them? Is there a risk they could be blamed if things go wrong? Successful internal negotiations require seeing things from your colleagues' perspectives.

Department objectives: When negotiating between departments, don’t assume they share your goals. Know and understand what their objectives are and why they are what they are. This insight helps you understand how your proposal might help or hinder their goals, preparing you for possible resistance.

Strategic Thinking: Skilled internal negotiators grasp the broader consequences of what they are trying to achieve. They consider how their decisions affect others and anticipate potential opposition. This foresight helps them engage the right stakeholders to garner support.

Networking and Relationship Building: Building a strong network and maintaining positive relationships are essential. If you only reach out to people when you need something, it won't work in the long run. Try mixing up your lunch companions or changing where you sit to broaden your connections. Build a reciprocity wallet, whereby you support your colleagues proactively, then when you ask their support you’ll likely receive it.

Coalition Building: Internal negotiations often need support from various parties. Effective negotiators know how to form alliances. They identify allies, understand their needs, and unite them around a common cause.

Stakeholder Mapping: An internal negotiator does well to have a clear stakeholder map where different stakeholders are identified based on their authority and interest, whereby interest is also defined as in favor or against. This way an internal stakeholder can prepare how to navigate these complexities.

Communication and approach: Using aggressive or competitive tactics internally might work in the short term but can cause problems in the long term. A collaborative style that emphasizes listening and transparency is more effective. Being flexible and accommodating different needs, while remaining honest about what is and isn't possible, is crucial.

Mastering internal negotiations is key for your job success and your long-term career progression. The art of internal negotiation requires understanding the intricate dynamics within an organization, recognizing that internal discussions are indeed negotiations, and preparing for them as rigorously as one would for external deals. By being aware that one needs to be meticulously prepared, adapt their approach, understanding colleagues' interests, and engaging in effective stakeholder management, you can significantly enhance your ability to navigate and succeed in internal negotiations. Such skills ensure not only better internal cooperation but also improve a negotiator's capacity to secure better external deals.

Improving your internal negotiation capabilities is not just beneficial; it is essential for anyone looking to advance and thrive in complex corporate environments.


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