Negotiation strategies for a disparate group?
July 1, 2011 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Negotiation strategies for a disparate group? How do you get the "best deal" when your team can't agree on what the best deal looks like?

Let's say you are part of a loose coalition of people and organizations who all want the same general thing from a governmental agency (or group of agencies). Let's say your coalition has done enough groundwork to get a seat at the table with said agency and the industry that this agency regulates.

Further: let's say that while your coalition wants the same general thing (better regulations) there is a wide spectrum of opinions about what those better regulations look like. One organization wants complete abolition of certain industry practices, while others will settle for "better regulation" of said practices.

Now, if this was negotiating for a car, you'd set the price low (or high, depending) and then bargain your way to the best deal that both sides were willing to make. But since there's no easy to identify "best deal" and each individual org has different ideas about what the best deal would look like.. how to go about negotiating as a unified whole?

How to get coalition members to present a semi unified front?

What would be the strategy to get the strongest possible regulations in a situation like this, where you have "no compromisers" and "settlers" on the same team?

Are there any books or articles on this sort of thing? Any personal experience or advice?

posted by natteringnabob to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bartering is easy - the range of options relates to price and quantity. Negotiating anything else is complex, because the demands don't have the same sliding or stepping scale of options. Because of that, you would be well served to list out alternative options in decreasing order of preference.

If you're the moderator or mediator, get all parties to present such charts, and then swap charts, allowing parties to provide counter-arguments to the offers. That way, everyone can see what all sides have to gain and lose.

Alternatively, parties could provide what they would give if their goals were met, in part and in full.

If people or groups are fixated on goals that the other parties cannot fathom or agree to, get parties to describe their reasons for wanting such goals. With such explanations could come understanding, and possibly some realization for ways to mitigate concerns and still reach desired goals.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2011

As for uniting a coalition against a united front, many of the same tactics could be used. Get everyone to understand the reasons for other people's goals, and reasons why they would or would not settle on less than everything. Also, figure out what happens if "everything" is not an option, so you don't end up with nothing. Find agreements on when it would be suitable to compromise, and under what terms.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:56 PM on July 1, 2011

Additionally, you might want to have a background session for the coalition: have everyone bring together their personal histories, understanding and eduction on the topic or issue. Some times, concerns are raised because of misunderstandings or incomplete information, and things get emotional and heated when misguided viewpoints are disregarded for (apparently) no reason.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on July 1, 2011

What you are describing is not a good system for a negotiation. This is more in the territory of a dialogue. The groups that you are a part of share some common belief, or goal but with various paths they feel are the best way to get to the goal. First you need to define what teh goal looks like in the long term.

Get them together and have them describe a successful outcome in 10 years. What does it look like? What can they point to in ten years that shows it was a full success. These can be absurdly optimistic.

Then, taking all the groups ten year plans identify the shared things. The outcomes they agree on ten years down the line. Next identify how those outcomes are associated with current issues they are dealing with. Start working backwards from the outcome to the problems of today building a path of interventions as they go.

In this way you enmesh the plans for everyone perfect futures together in your intervention plan. You discover the common fronts that you can codify into value statements (or whatever your field uses as its main focus document). A process like this allows you to identify the ways you can move as a common front on the shared aspects of the future while allowing for the individual groups to address the unshared issues on their own time.
posted by elationfoundation at 1:12 PM on July 1, 2011

This is a tricky one. I don't have a pat answer but I've worked with similar coalitions (if there's anything tougher than a public/private-sector team with multiple stakeholders and differing agendas trying to reach a common goal, I'm sure I don't know what it is). I'm just thinking out loud here.

First, your "loose coalition" is going to have to tighten up. An advocacy group that isn't really sure what it's asking for from the government is definitely not going to receive it. The benefit of strength in numbers is lost when there are too many discordant voices. A really clear set of expectations, goals and a well-defined message—that all members are on—is going to be key.

So, yeah. How to get to that?

I think you have to start with the "no compromisers." It seems that conversations must be had with the heads of those groups, and they need to be made to understand that the problem with an "all or nothing" approach when you're dealing with the government is that, all too often, you just get the nothing. I'm trying to think of any case in my local/state/national awareness where an "all or nothing" group was able to achieve 100% of their reform goals... and I'm failing.

But the "no compromisers" group is surely driven by concerns that their respective individual positions will be diluted by too much proximity to a "meet in the middle" approach.

Let's say I'm a club called "The Association for Total Wackadoo Freedom for All Americans" and we want total rights for Wackadoos—it's in our mission, it was what we were founded on 50 years ago when the first Wackadoos became oppressed.

And in your coalition is a newer club called "The Committee for Better Wackadoo Lives". Members are younger, they don't remember first-hand the awful days when Wackadoos were made to wear clown suits and recite Carl Sandberg poems in the streets, so their position is more moderate. CBWL members agree that total Wackadoo rights would be ideal, but are not likely attainable in this decade, so they "settle" for small steady improvements.

I can't risk my Association members jumping ship for your Committee, which is less strident in its mission and therefore has an easier advocacy path. Nor can I risk having the rest of the world getting our two clubs confused simply because we are all part of one umbrella coalition to preserve Wackadoo rights. This is partly a branding concern.

How can the coalition mitigate these risks for me? Possibly by developing two streams of advocacy messaging: "total" and "some". Do an internal assessment of where "total" messaging can be effective—internet, member emails, internal events like workshops and training. And identify where "some" messaging works better: specific legislation requests, public position statements, or any time you are trying to win a non-Wackadoo-fluent audience to get involved with the cause.

By letting the "no compromisers" see that the coalition will absolutely go hardline, in the right environment... they should take some assurance away that their mission is still valued.

And maybe by creating a campaign that lets diverse voices within the coalition be heard? A coalition "member of the month" type of thing, where the coalition website and media resources are used to highlight, "Here's what our individual group feels about Wackadoo reform," going into specific platform differences, but bringing it back to, "and here's why we are part of the coalition."

Cause-driven leaders never want to give an inch, because they eat, sleep and breathe their mission. But ultimately the point of a coalition is a larger, stronger voice. If the "no compromisers" can't agree to a reasonable middle ground, they might have to leave the coalition.

Unless, of course, the group would rather be primarily about awareness than about executing reform. But if executing reform is the goal, the coalition is going to have to get on the same page, which means the "no compromisers" have to allow for some compromise.
posted by pineapple at 1:18 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Getting to Yes has some useful discussion of the pitfalls of group bargaining.
posted by foursentences at 2:14 PM on July 1, 2011

This is a very good question that in one way goes to the heart of one's own theory of change.

I'm not sure what YOUR role is here, and what goals YOU have, but someone is going to have to do some work if this disparate coalition is to keep moving forward together as much as possible. Of utmost importance will be that person's personal relationships with the members and personal integrity (do not make promises you cannot keep to either side; say the hard stuff to everyone directly; be as transparent as possible), because once trust breaks down, factions are inevitable.

At the most basic level, the answer is that this group needs to get together before the meeting and decide these things together: what do we, as a group want to work for; to get there, what should we ask for; and as the negotiations move forward, how do we want to make decisions about when to support or reject a proposal that might not meet our goals in their entirety? do we make that decision together or not?

There is not one cookie-cutter answer about the negotiation. It really depends on the political dynamics. In some cases, it might be a meet-in-the-middle car-purchase-style negotiation as you expect. In some cases, asking for something too far out could lose you your access. The best strategy might be to align with the agency, knowing that if there is just one reform proposal on the table, its chances are better. I'd rely on your savvy members who have the most experience.

In the end, how the negotiation come out is likely to come down to a very simple question: who does one or two key decision-makers trust enough to listen to them (both on policy and on politics)? Your group might strive to change both, but especially the politics, as much as possible. The "purist" group in particular may be the most motivated to work to change the political calculation, while the "moderate" group may be happy for the expediency of facilitating whatever change is already possible under the current calculation. Explicit communication here might be helpful ("we can only get 8 votes for that proposal so we lose unless you can find 2 more" or "if the Secretary goes against the Governor's wishes, he loses his seat. She has said she won't support a complete ban. So what is your plan for changing the Gov's mind?").

What is this "table," and how does this one meeting fit into your broader political strategy? Pineapple is right that this large group is probably not the right one to be negotiating on any of the details. Are you bringing this coalition to one meeting, or are several of you now invited to serve on some extended committee process? Usually one meeting would be considered a "tactic," and has a much more limited set of goals that might not even require agreeing on a platform.

Again, how you handle this coalition building, platform development, and message selection (in whatever limited form) depends on your goals, and your vision for this coalition over the long run. Do you want it to last? Could it? (What's the history of these groups' past collaborations?) My advice really depends on whether I think your goal is to make change on this issue now, keep the coalition together for longer-term change, or help one particular subset of groups get their goals met. (It seems like your role is the coalition anchor. If this question was a veiled way of asking "will my interests get 'sold out'?" OR "how do I keep those 'troublemaking extremists' from giving us 'reasonable people' a bad name?" I have different advice.)

Much of this, over the long run, will come down to individual coalition members, and the resources and relationships they have. As a coalition, you have to respect that ultimately each group has to do what's right for themselves. Pineapple is right about the need to be keenly attuned to the needs of the organizations. (Not just branding needs but also fundraising. Who gets credit here?)

At a most basic level, what you can work toward is that everyone try to find a few points of agreement where you can all be more likely to be heard by speaking in a unified way. The coalition discussion should almost always happen outside the room so that you can present yourselves as unified when you're in the room. If you want more specific advice, i'm happy to help.
posted by slidell at 7:34 PM on July 1, 2011

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