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What Happens When You Negotiate with the Wrong Person

Before you open any negotiation, you need to ask yourself if you are talking to the right person / right team. Sometimes negotiations will get down to the wire and the other party will say something along the lines of: “Oh, I need to escalate to get final approval.” To be fair, it is one thing to know from the outset that the negotiation execise was a preliminary activity, but it is another to be caught by surprise by the news that it’s not over.

Proactive negotiators do their homework. They spend time assessing their needs and wants, speculating on the potential needs and wants of the other party, and mapping the negotiation zone–that is, the area of possible agreement. However, negotiators won’t get far if they are not talking to someone who can sign an agreement.

The drawbacks to negotiating with the wrong person are:

1. You waste time & energy. If the negotiation ends up being an exercise in futility, you have lost time you will not be able to get back. It is important to know as early as possible in the process what the parameters of the negotiation are–including who has the final sign-off.

2. You show your cards. If you discuss too much with the “wrong person” what your ultimate intentions are, you may reveal too much about your position and what you’re willing to accept. The “wrong person” likely has a relationship with the “right person” and may share information that might put you in a position of having to concede key points.

3. You tarnish your credibility. If you unwittingly spend a great deal of time and resources on courting the “wrong person,” you may appear to to be inexperienced or naive.If you unwittingly spend a great deal of time and resources on courting the “wrong person,” you may appear to to be inexperienced or naive.

4. You may inadvertently disclose confidential information. Negotiations can tread on areas that in normal circumstances you or your employer might prefer to keep under wraps. If this is a concern, you may have to negotiate the parameters of the discussion.

5. You risk making an enemy. Lastly, you may unknowingly alienate the “right person”–that is, the one who has the authority to make a decision by giving someone else your time and attention. However, how the “right person” views the matter is dependent on the context, past practice, and their relationship with the “wrong person.” You want to be careful not to give the impression that you disregard the position or authority of the “right person.”

It’s not always easy to know you are dealing with the “right person” when organizations have varying structures and policies. There are few core questions to help you determine if you communicating with the right person.

  1. Do they know the issues? Are they familiar with the context of the negotiations? Can they reasonably discuss all aspects of the deal with you?
  2. Do they have the power to sign an agreement? As noted above, sometimes the negotiated agreement is a football that has to be kicked to the next level for approval–and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but all parties need to know the score at the outset. Know who has the power to sign-off on the agreement.
  3. Can they deliver on an agreement? Does this person / team have the organizational know-how to deliver on the agreement within the specified time frame?

When you are sure you are dealing with the “right person”–your negotiation is off to a great start.


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