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  • Writer's pictureMarc Saris

Unlocking Negotiations: The Critical Role of Stakeholder Engagement

Reflect on your most recent negotiation that didn't go as planned. It's likely that overlooked stakeholders, whether they were internal, external, or a combination of both, played a significant role in derailing the process.

Negotiation, at its core, is about seeking an agreement among parties represented by individuals. Thus, understanding the individuals who can influence the outcome of a negotiation is paramount. Stakeholder mapping emerges as an indispensable tool in the preparatory phase of negotiation, enabling you to identify the interests, needs, and priorities of all involved stakeholders.

William Ury, a renowned negotiation expert, eloquently stated, “The people who are not at the table in a negotiation, are just as important as the people at the table. You really need to think through not just the negotiators but their constituencies and to really think through of there not just being one table where the negotiators are at but at least three tables.”

At Impact Negotiation Group, when advising our clients on their negotiation a fundamental part our process starts with a detailed mapping of relevant stakeholders (both internal and external) to the negotiation. This involves evaluating stakeholders influence—how much they can shape the negotiation process, including its scope, acceptance criteria, and specifics—and stakeholders power, or their decision-making capacity. This evaluation allows us to categorize stakeholders accordingly:

  • Operators: These individuals handle the negotiation groundwork, including research, analysis, proposal drafting, and organizational briefings. Their role is typically constrained, requiring approval for negotiation strategies.

  • Key Influencers: Stakeholders with significant interest in the negotiation's commercial aspects and scope, often setting the criteria for technical requirements and potential outcomes.

  • Key Authorities: Although not directly involved in the negotiation, they have the power to make decisions on specific aspects of the deal, such as legal terms or commercial conditions, usually due to their formal positions.

  • Decision Makers: The ultimate signatories of the agreement, possessing both formal authority and business responsibility. The deal's size often influences the delegation of decision-making authority.

Negotiators must understand that their discussions reach beyond those present at the negotiation table to include those absent yet equally influential in terms of interests and positions. Negotiators have several options to consider how to better understand the identified stakeholders, including:

  • Gaining Direct Access: Utilizing internal stakeholders to creatively connect with external ones, thereby grasping their needs and priorities. This approach demands considerable time, investment, and coordination.

  • Discussing Stakeholder Dynamics: Proactively addressing the topic of stakeholders with your counterpart can expose internal misalignments and clarify the landscape of stakeholder influence.

  • Employing Effective Questioning: Questioning the negotiators other party with a focus on the the interests and priorities of various stakeholders can reveal underlying motivations, indicating that factors other than price may drive decisions.

A comprehensive analysis of both external and internal stakeholders and their priorities and interest yields several benefits. Primarily, it provides negotiators with a wider understanding of the complexities and subtleties of the decision-making process from both sides. This insight allows negotiators to recognize that their counterparts may be negotiating just as intensely, if not more, with their internal stakeholders as they are with the opposing party.

So, what advantages do negotiators gain from stakeholder mapping exercises? Such analysis enables them to:

  • Devise a comprehensive communication strategy targeting both internal and external stakeholders, determining what information to share, with whom, and how to influence the negotiation outcome effectively.

  • Evaluate the objectives and priorities of various stakeholders that could influence the negotiation. For instance, the goals of a Chief Procurement Officer might significantly differ from those of a Chief Operations Officer, potentially leading to conflicts.

  • Establish a clear escalation path for the negotiation and communicate this to the involved internal stakeholders.

Embracing a comprehensive perspective on the negotiation landscape and acknowledging the presence of various negotiation tables aids in the development of strategic plans and positioning. This broad understanding affords negotiators a panoramic view of their discussions, thereby improving their capacity to navigate through the intricacies of crafting deals with greater proficiency.


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