When a Team Member Goes Rogue

When someone on your negotiation team goes rogue in a negotiation and says or does things that they’re not meant to, it makes many experienced negotiators lose their minds!

The immediate thought that enters the heads of the other members of the team is usually, “WTF is he doing!?!”, “He’s blowing it!”, “Did he actually say that!?!”.

Many of us have been in situations where someone (usually the technical lead or the executive leader) on our team screws up and says something they’re not supposed to say. But (and some people aren’t going to like this) if you’re leading the negotiation and someone goes rogue, it’s usually entirely your fault as the negotiation lead. You probably didn’t do a good enough job on communicating any one or all of the following: roles, responsibilities, things to say, things not to say, and the process for what happens for if or when things go south in the negotiation.

Communicating Roles – As the lead in the negotiation, it’s your responsibility to communicate roles. There could be a technical role, a commercial role (usually filled by the negotiation lead), and perhaps even an executive role. I highly recommend you also bring someone in who can be a solid scribe. Their role is to shut up and take notes. This is a good role to be filled by a junior sales/procurement person because it gives them great experience. Then, if you want to get context to your notes, I even recommend having someone on the team (or even a separate person entirely) to be the person who notes body language and responses (pick a really experienced negotiator for this role). But the most important role is to define who is doing the talking (and when) and who is not. This needs to be very clear.

Communicating Responsibilities – Each of the roles has certain responsibilities. Those responsibilities belong to those team members, not to anyone else. This needs to be very clear. If you have a commercial person advising on technical requirements, things are going to get weird quickly. And visa versa. Above all else, everyone on the team needs to understand the negotiation strategy (at a high level – what’s needed/wanted, concession items, what people can and cannot say, and what the end game is) that they’re is going in with. I’m not going to dive into specific responsibilities except for that of the negotiation lead. The negotiation lead has the responsibility to shape and move the negotiation, and if required, to reign in team members who forget their roles. Sometimes this means that you may be placed in the uncomfortable position of having to reign in an executive. But don’t get nervous, it happens all the time, trust me. You just need a plan for when it does happen that everyone agrees to prior to the negotiation.

Before you go into the negotiation, ensure that you have a plan if things go south and someone goes rogue. Usually that plan is for the negotiation lead to call a time out when they see something potentially going offside. This time out is a way for the team to re-calibrate on roles and responsibilities and get a good understanding of why the person is starting to go rogue (usually there’s a reason).

The bottom line is that the best way to handle someone going rogue is to be prepared for when it will happen. Notice I said ‘when’ and not ‘if’. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will, so be prepared for it.