Before the Negotiation

In her blog post, titled “The Power of Reframing: How Language Shapes our Futures,”Cheri Baker discusses how reframing the questions we ask ourselves now can reshape our futures: “When our questions are narrow or presumptive they limit the doors we can open with them …  When we don’t consciously craft the questions that we live by, we live a life constrained by others and by our own habits” (Retrieved November 5, 2011, from

In much the same way, argue David Lax and James Sebenius in their article titled “3-D Negotiations: Playing the Whole Game” (Harvard Business Review, November 2003, p. 64-74), “reshap[ing] the scope and sequence of the game itself” drastically affects the outcome of any negotiation process (p. 66). While they maintain that tactics and deal design are essential to negotiations, they propose that an oft-overlooked barrier “between you and the yes you want” (pg. 65) is the setup of the actual negotiations. Improperly set up negotiations can lead to “…negotiating with the wrong parties or about the wrong set of issues, involving parties in the wrong sequence or at the wrong time, as well as incompatible or unattractive no-deal options” (65-66). According to Charlene Barshefsky, as quoted in “3-D Negotiations,” “Tactics at the table are only the cleanup work … When you know what you need and you have put a broader strategy in place, then negotiating tactics will flow” (Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 66).

As presented in Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 67.

A prime example of 3-D negotiation was the process to legalize gay marriage in New York state. Spearheaded and strategized by New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, the intensely multi-party negotiation involved many different constituencies with a plethora of interests: Democratic politicians, staff, donors and supporters; gay rights advocates; the Catholic Church; Republican lawmakers, donors, supporters, and strategists; and many others. Rather than taking the proposed legalization of gay marriage directly to the lawmakers, Governor Cuomo and his team instead worked a variety of angles and individuals before beginning the official negotiation. As Lax and Sebenius write, “rather than enter into a full multiparty process at the outset,” it might be beneficial to first seek “agreement between a few dominant players, which would then serve as the basis for a later deal among a wider group. Or, negotiations to forge a multi-issue strategic alliance between two [groups] may be dramatically simplified by one side which instead proposes an outright acquisition” (p. 72).

Governor Cuomo’s team did exactly this: they met privately with Republican donors, appealing to their sensibilities of “personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views” (Barbaro, Michael. “Behind N.Y. Gay Marriage, an Unlikely Mix of Forces,” The New York Times. June 25, 2011. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from They gave assurances to,  and assuaged the fears of, the Republic party, stating that the Governor could help them as he was “‘more of an asset than the vote will be a liability'” (Barbaro, 2011). The Governor worked to align the goals of the varied gay-rights advocates into one unified and strategic (and, therefore, effective) front: New Yorkers United for Marriage. He went after dissenting Democratic politicians, playing to their personal interests in gay marriage: family, guilt from previously-cast votes, and the opinions of their constituents (Barbaro, 2011). By first working to gain the support of a number of smaller, specific groups, Governor Cuomo was able to then bring the bill to the public knowing that he had the combined support of all those interests.

Governor Cuomo brought new players into the game, a “common practice” utilized by 3-D negotiators. As Steve Holtzman, former chief business officer of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, explains, adding parties to a negotiation is a good idea because, while “It drives you nuts, trying to juggle them all … it will change the perception on the other side of the table … [and] will change your self-perception” (cited in Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 67). Governor Cuomo believed in the cause of legalizing gay marriage, but few other parties came forward in open support; however, in gradually adding more and more support groups, Governor Cuomo fulfilled Holtzman’s wise words: “If you believe that there are other people who are interested, your bluff  is no longer a bluff: it’s real. It will come across with a whole other level of conviction” (cited in Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 67). Of course, Governor Cuomo didn’t see the right to marriage for gay people as a bluff; however, the sentiment is the same: in garnering support, Governor Cuomo’s message became more and more forceful. “Instead of trying to skillfully play a poor hand when dealing with party X on issues A and B, [Governor Cuomo] changed the game toward … more compatible counterpart[s] … emphasizing issues C, D, and E, on which [he] was strong” (Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 69).

The lessons drawn from these articles are dramatic. As I progress as an arts administrator, I will be involved in countless negotiations with unions, individuals, other businesses and organizations, etc. “While 3-D negotiators should play the existing game well, as tacticians and deal designers, they should also act as entrepreneurs, seeking to create a more favorable target game” (Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 72). Instead of waiting to settle discrepancies between my organization and the other party at the negotiating table, I should look to structure the negotiation to help the other party say “yes” to my proposals. By asking questions such as “Who outside the existing deal might most value an aspect of it? … Which issues promise mutual advantage? … Are there additional bidders or parties who could favorably alter BATNAs in other ways? Can certain issues be linked for leverage?” (Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 73), I stand a better chance of expanding the value pie and claiming a bigger piece for myself (my organization). By “‘mapping backward’ from the most promising structure for the deal to the current setup,” (Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 72), I can “ensure that the right parties are approached in the right order to deal with the right issues, by the right means, at the right time, under the right set of expectations, and facing the right no-deal options” (Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p. 66).

“Can we find the guy who can deliver the guy? We have to call the guy who calls the guy who calls the guy” (Bill Daley, as cited in Lax & Sebenius, 2003, p 73). Build a strong base, achieve a great result.

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