Backward Negotiation — a Good Way to Negotiate
By Steve Brown on January 27th, 2014
Mapping a negotiation backwards is all about envisioning the outcome first then thinking in reverse to attain your goals! Entering a negotiation often calls for getting your allies onboard and making them listen to what you have to say. While the approach is conventional, it may not always be the best way to proceed with a negotiation. It’s important to sequence matters whether you’re attempting to persuade the ‘right’ individuals to attend an auction, sign an important deal, or compel them to open up a new business.
Where do you start and whom you should address first? Standard rules like making allies first or negotiating internally and then externally are extremely unreliable approaches. Using the logic of backward negotiations can help you select partners wisely, and thus conduct negotiations in the right way.
The logic of backward mapping in negotiations
According to James K. Sebenius of Harvard Business School, mapping a negotiation backwards means envisioning the outcome first. It’s all about thinking in reverse. Basic steps include:
- Drawing a ‘map’ of all parties at the negotiation table (include potential clients and teammates as well)
- Estimating the cost of reaching an agreement as we as difficulty level of the negotiation
- Classifying key relationships among all parties: who holds the power, who owes something and to whom, etc.
- Focusing your attention on the most difficult player to persuade – the target, your ultimate goal, the solution to your negotiation deal, etc.
In order to have a better understanding of the whole process, you can always consider a different approach – project management. When it’s time to decide on a complex project, your main focus should be the end result. After that, you can devote your time to developing a timeline from the end to the start. A project management project completed successfully can be compared to an agreement that creates value, an agreement sustained by a powerful coalition.
Are you ready to apply the logic of backward mapping in negotiations?
As soon as you’re ready to apply the logic of backward mapping for your negotiation, you should be prepared to answer some questions: can you spot important players? How do you do that? Should you negotiate secretly, out in the open, collectively or separately? How do you defend yourself from the tactics used by your competitors? Here are some suggestions you might want to have in mind:
- Study the patterns of authority and respect – latent merger builders are quick learners, and they know that approaching the trickiest, and probably the most decisive, party first could mean slim chances of closing a deal.
- Outflank blockers – although sequencing could build support to achieve a supreme goal, it is often used to outflank latent opponents.
- Control information – attentive sequencing might help deal with delicate information.
- Watch out for sneaky sequencers – be careful as other people might take advantage of your position.
Gaining authority through sequencing and mapping in negotiations
Experienced business negotiators also acknowledge the concept of creating value using rational low-priced/high-value trade-offs. The thought of making something out of nothing is a real challenge. A business negotiation is all about holding power and being able to dictate the negotiation process. Exploring the practice of sequencing to attain power in business comes down to 4 words: zero options, zero power. Ergo, without power, the negotiation doesn’t have dynamics, and if it doesn’t have dynamics, it can’t work.
If there’s no competition in a business negotiation, we have monopoly; and if monopolies subsist, efficiencies and values are unlikely to be promoted. Who holds the ‘real’ power in a business negotiation? As long as you have options your chances of success are widely increased.
Backward negotiations can be an excellent strategy as long as you have a clear picture of your end goal and an idea about how to reach it. Good luck in all your future negotiations.
About the Author
Steve Brown is a regular blogger who writes articles related to small business and negotiation. He is writer at many high ranking sites and loves playing with his dog in his free time.