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Shadow of the Tribe
John H. Wade
Editors’ Note: The negotiations have gone on for hours or months or years. A deal is at hand. And now, the other side mentions for the first time that the approval of some previously unremarked person is required, or there is no deal. Could you have prepared for this? Do you have options at this point? Are you, perhaps, the negotiator making the dread announcement that you must respond to a higher power before a deal’s a deal? Here, Wade meticulously deconstructs the circumstances that lead to “shadow of the tribe” negotiations, and suggests what you can do.
It is rare for an individual present at a negotiation or mediation to have “unlimited” authority to settle or make decisions. Even the most rugged individualist usually has someone looking over his/her shoulder. This may be a spouse, child, business partner, CEO, board of directors, shareholders, head office in Chicago, club or church members. We are all part of some “system” or “network” of influences. These people in the background, sometimes in the shadows, can be described as supporters, influences, bosses, stakeholders, third parties, constituents, outsiders, armchair critics, bush lawyers, sticky beaks, nosey parkers,1 ratifiers, destabilizers, tribal members, intermeddlers, cheersquads, principals, hawks, doves or moderates.2 In this chapter, the terminology of “the tribe” will often be used.
The visible negotiator can be labeled an agent, representative, spokesperson, mouth-piece, pawn, victim, channel, or go-between.
Christopher Moore characterizes constituent groups as either “bureaucratic” or “horizontal.” Bureaucratic constituents are the hierarchy of decision-makers in companies, government agencies, tribes, schools and many other institutions. “Horizontal” constituents are friends, relatives and co-workers whom a disputant feels obliged to consult and listen to (Moore 2003: 438-41). The following case study illustrates the discovery of a powerful horizontal constituent, namely a spouse.
Case Study 1—Ambushed by a Powerful Spouse
A cotton factory owner contracted with an expert factory designer and builder to renovate sections of his mill for $2 million. When the renovations were complete the owner was disappointed as the promised rate of production did not occur until three months thereafter. The new machinery often did not work during the first three months. The factory experienced repetitive “down-time.” Accordingly, the factory owner withheld the last payment of $250,000 to the renovator. Incensed, the renovator commenced court action in one state (the state of the contract) to recover the last installment. Predictably, the factory owner cross-claimed, in the state where the factory was actually constructed, for three months of diminished profits, being around $1 million. The entrenched parties and lawyers were required to attend mandatory mediation.
After lengthy and sometimes vitriolic negotiation between the two teams at the table (eleven people in total), the mediator took the two CEOs for a walk down the street. Standing under a tree for an hour with the mediator reframing and asking “what if” questions led to a settlement between the two CEOs. However, the tough renovator CEO suddenly announced, “Of course I will not be able to settle this today. I will have to run this all past my wife”.
The mediator reframed, placated the other irate CEO and retreated with the renovator CEO in order to phone his wife. In a carefully orchestrated conversation, the mediator spoke to the wife (with the husband present) and praised the husband, explained what progress had been made, empathized with her suffering and loss, and brainstormed on the risks of other options. The wife spoke to her renovator husband (with the mediator still present), and in a short time confirmed the grateful husband’s decision to settle.
Obviously, some negotiators do not disclose that they will need to convince influential outsiders about any outcome (Johnston and Campbell 1988; Wade 2000). They lie, or are embarrassed, or overestimate their own influence over their constituents. At a later stage of preparation, or at the joint negotiation meetings, more direct questions may unearth the outsiders in the shadows, ever-present in spirit, though absent in the flesh:
■ “How will Mary, the head of your department, feel about that sort of result?”....
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