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The Dynamics that Make a Multiparty Negotiation Effective with Mihai Isman, Ep #199

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How do you manage multiparty negotiations? What should the preparation process look like? What kind of outcome do you strive for? Multiparty negotiations are a different beast. So how do you manage it? Mihai Isman joins me in this episode of Negotiations Ninja to share how he and his team tackle multiparty negotiations.

Mihai is based in Cologne, Germany, where he heads up I&P Negotiation Consulting. They do commercial, political, and even union negotiations. Multiparty negotiations are their bread and butter. Listen to this episode to take advantage of his wide-ranging expertise!


Outline of This Episode

  • [1:35] Multiparty negotiations
  • [2:13] Who is Mihai Isman?
  • [3:20] What most people don’t consider
  • [5:32] Align with others to play it safe
  • [6:40] Start with one-on-one conversations
  • [9:11] How you move from “position” to “interest”
  • [11:27] Choose your location(s) wisely
  • [14:29] The outcomes to look for in a multiparty negotiation
  • [17:08] How Mihai’s team works with multiple parties
  • [18:04] The pre-mortem analysis + optimism
  • [22:09] How to work through language differences
  • [24:38] How to connect with Mihai Isman

Carefully consider every party involved in the process

Two years ago, Mihai was involved in a huge negotiation with eight different groups. There were 23 different people at the table. They were from ministries, NGOs, lobbying groups, agricultural cooperatives, wholesale representatives, slaughterhouses, pig farmers, and supermarkets.

He had no idea how they prepared. Those people are part of a supply chain that interacts with each other daily. You have no idea who likes whom and if there are antagonists at the table. You have to be able to assess the situation quickly.

Start with one-on-one conversations

Each person involved in a negotiation has their own position, wants, and needs. So, where do you start? Mihai usually starts with one-on-one discussions with each party to understand the perspective of the whole group. He notes that you must be aware that they may be lying to you to position themselves well. Either way, you learn how they approach the negotiation table.

You can pose questions to find out what relationships may exist with the other players at the table. Then you can draw a stakeholder map and work with it in the whole process. The first step is understanding the position of every player. That helps Mihai gain trust as the mutual party to bring everyone together.

How you move from “position” to “interest”

Positional negotiation may mean “I want this thing,” and interest-based negotiation may be the “why” behind why they want it. To get from one to another, Mihai shares that you have to use basic questioning techniques. Be curious, understanding, and non-judgmental. Mihai likes to “play stupid” and pretend he doesn’t understand something to get them to further explain their reasoning or position. It’s not rocket science. But you do have to listen carefully.

Secondly, you have to design the process carefully. What steps do you want to take? The more complex the negotiation is, the more detailed your process and preparation should be. You have to mediate and overcome conflict.

In Mihai’s earlier example, the slaughterhouses and pig farmers had been enmeshed in conflict for four years. If they hadn’t done mediation before negotiation, it would have gone terribly. Their conflict was so deep they didn’t want to sit in the room with each other.

If you learn that a relationship is full of conflict, you have to take care of the relationship first, then move on to the negotiation. Or the negotiation will be an unproductive show. They can all say that they’re “playing by the rules” but budge on nothing.

Does choosing a location matter? Listen to hear Mihai’s thoughts!

The outcomes to look for in a multiparty negotiation

Mihai points out that you can often start with a romantic view of the negotiation process where everyone ends up happy. But he emphasizes that you have to be okay with reaching an agreement where only 80% of the parties are on board. But if seven out of eight are finding a viable solution, that should be okay. It’s not possible for everyone to be happy. Solving one aspect of the problem can be enough. The negotiation may be continued down the road as circumstances change.

Mihai remembers that after the interviews, he realized the pig farms were only getting pennies on the dollar. But, it was pointed out to him that they could just sell their land and have millions. They were not poor. You must move past your sympathies or antipathies for one or more of the parties, or you will always advocate unilaterally and won’t get all on the table. You have to break down your own preconceptions about where each party is financially, economically, and so on.

In the end, you have to recognize that a multiparty negotiation is a very different animal. You will need to do a significant amount of planning, preparation, and adjustment throughout—including managing your own expectations. To hear the full conversation—and learn how Mihai’s negotiation ended—listen to the whole episode!

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