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Multiparty Negotiations in the
Sanda Kaufman, Connie Ozawa & Deborah Shmueli
Editor’s Note: Most negotiation research in the laboratory, and much practical wisdom in the field, concerns the actions of “dyads”, i.e. pairs of individuals negotiating with each other. This is far from the real-world environment of major public disputes. And in such disputes, blindly following the typical advice from less complex environments can get the negotiator or mediator and the clients into real trouble. The authors use case studies from three highly dissimilar environments to unpack the negotiating differences that apply when the parties are many, the stakes are high, and the situation is unstable.
Negotiation research, academic textbooks and popular “how-to” books often describe dyadic (two-party) processes for either triumphing over an opponent or crafting coveted “win-win” outcomes together with the opponent. The term “third party” for interveners such as mediators reflects the dominance of the dyadic frame, to the near-exclusion of multiparty conflicts that are neither rare nor lacking in impact. The dyadic perspective prevails even when addressing situations where negotiators represent the interests of two broad, internally diverse groups (Harbom, Melander and Wallensteen 2008). Such are international, labor-management and other conflicts pitting against each other two groups within which multiple, divergent interest subgroups (Lax and Sebenius 1991: 154; Raiffa 1982: 166) must develop a shared stance. Despite the dominance of the dyadic research perspective, recognition of the specific characteristics of multiparty conflicts and of the need to tailor to them negotiation prescriptions is not recent (Nyhart 1983; Bacow and Wheeler 1984; Kramer 1989; Keefe et al. 1989: 222-231; Lax and Sebenius 1991; Polzer, Mannix and Neale 1995; Pruitt 1998; Crump and Glendon 2003). However, multiparty negotiations have yet to receive a comparable share of research attention.
In this chapter, we characterize multiparty negotiation processes. We use three public sector examples. They serve our purpose well: they typically involve individuals, public agencies at multiple levels of government, private and nonprofit organizations, and special interest groups. We highlight what is alike and different from dyadic situations. We discuss what these differences mean for the negotiators, for interveners, for stakeholders who are not at the negotiation table, and for negotiation theory prescriptions.
Dyadic vs. Multiparty Negotiations
Negotiation texts define multiparty negotiations as having more than two parties, whether individuals or monolithic groups (Lax and Sebenius 1991: 154). Even when only one person or entity is added to a dyad, differences between bilateral and multilateral negotiation dynamics emerge, ranging from increased cognitive overload to process intricacies and difficulties in reaching integrative agreements. Some challenges are also present in two-party settings but are intensified, while others are specific to multiparty negotiations.
Similar but greatly intensified challenges include logistics and basic negotiation analytics.1 Relatively straightforward tasks—coordinating calendars and meeting places, setting agendas, structuring, organizing and running the negotiation process—quickly become more cumbersome with each additional party. As in bilateral negotiations, each party should still heed negotiation theory prescriptions: build relationships, explore mutually beneficial tradeoffs, exchange full proposals rather than negotiate each issue separately, help generate creative and implementable options, and write contingent agreements. The presence of those able to make decisions and implement them remains important, but often becomes more difficult to accomplish. Participants need to (and should) prepare thoroughly; however, the number of issues and the interests embedded and reflected in them proliferate dramatically with more....
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