the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School(www.pon.harvard.edu)
A few years ago, Reebok was having difficulty renegotiating a contract with one of its major distributors, as Tufts University professor Jeswald W. Salacuse recounted in Tufts Magazine's Winter 2009 issue. Reebok approached a noncompeting manufacturer and enlisted it to persuade the distributor to cooperate. As it happened, the manufacturer was also one of the distributor's clients. The manufacturer stepped in willingly for fear that the conflict would harm distribution of its own products. The gambit worked, and Reebok inked a new deal.
Negotiators often get so caught up in talks that they forget outsiders to the negotiation might be able to come to their aid. But as this story shows, friends with the right resources can work wonders when you can't make headway with the party across the table.
LOOK AT FRIENDS IN A NEW LIGHT
As part of your prep work for any significant negotiation, make a list of friends, allies, and even respected strangers who might be able to help you out. Potential helpers are likely to fall into categories such as these, distinguished by the type of aid they might deliver:
Advocates. As in the Reebok story, friends might be able to budge your counterpart in the right direction by virtue of their reputation. Take the hypothetical case of a young consultant, Ben, who expresses dissatisfaction with a client's revised contract terms. Ben discusses the dilemma with his mentor, a more experienced consultant who performs work for the same client. The mentor calls the client to praise Ben's talent, and the client quickly phones Ben to offer a more appealing deal.
Mediators When you need an impartial third party to referee a negotiation that seems unsolvable, as in the case of a heated custody battle or a breach of contract, it may be time to bring in a mediator. In formal disputes, both parties involved jointly hire a professional mediator who has no close relationship with either side. But informal mediators can have closer ties to disputants, as in the case of a parent negotiating a spat between two siblings or a manager refereeing a disagreement between two employees.
Heavies. If a negotiator refuses to listen to reason, the threat of loss or punishment can be a strong motivator, according to Salacuse. To signal that you mean business, you might enlist a more powerful or intimidating party to deliver your threat. For instance, if someone owes you money, you could have a lawyer friend write to tell him that you have engaged her services.
Collaborators. When a deal is just out of your reach, whether because of price or some other issue, consider asking someone close to you to become your partner. Parents are sometimes willing to cosign on loans or otherwise help their children buy property, especially if promised a cut of any resale profit. Similarly, friends might pool their talent and resources to negotiate the purchase of an existing business.
Experts. Sometimes you'll find yourself negotiating outside your comfort zone. If you know nothing about cars, bring your mechanic friend to the used-car lot. If another friend loves to haggle, ask her to help you lock in bargains at a furniture showroom.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM?
Of course, if you fall into the habit of categorizing your friends only according to what they can do for you, they won't be your friends for long. Whenever you involve a friend in your negotiations, you incur a debt that may need to be repaid, writes Salacuse, whether in money, time or autonomy. Even if your friend insists she was happy to pitch in, find a meaningful way to express your gratitude and look for opportunities to reciprocate in the future.