Designing the Game in International Negotiations

Yadvinder S. Rana, Founder, Neglob

Designing the Game in International Negotiations

International negotiations are complex and ambiguous. They usually involve multiple parties acting in specific contexts with divergent objectives, priorities, cultures, and personalities.

This is the reason why effective negotiators design the game in their favor even before they get to the table. They transform the negotiation scope and structure by exploring complementary interests and concerns of behind-the-scenes players and modify the negotiation power dynamics by broadening the playing field.  

To better design the game, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who outside the existing players has interest in the deal?
  • Negotiating with organizations, which is the organization’s decision-making unit and what is its decision-making process?
  • Can you leverage complementary interests?
  • Can additional players positively change the alternatives to a no agreement (e.g., additional bidders, competitors, suppliers, or customers)?

Adding and subtracting issues and parties can change the perceived structure of the negotiation and therefore its outcomes.

In every international negotiation there are at least three levels of participants:

First-level players are the actual negotiators.

Second-level players are those who directly influence the negotiators: bosses, shareholders, clients, colleagues, suppliers, external consultants and even spouses. Understanding the underlying relationships between first-level and second-level players helps to identify negotiators’ authority, concerns, limits, interests, constraints, norms, values, thinking patterns, and behaviors.

Third-level players are those who can affect the negotiation indirectly: shareholders, competitors, policy makers, unions (sometimes unions are second-level players), and journalists writing about the talks.

Global  negotiators must identify the different actors and understand the varying interests, concerns, and constraints of the different players involved. Furthermore, they must be able to involve the right parties in the right sequence, at the right time.

By working behind the scenes, a negotiator can plant the seeds of ideas and start to build consensus before formal decision making begins.

Develop options that appeal not only to your self-interest, but also to the self-interest of the different players. Favorable agreements depend on the different players making the decision you want.

Identify the other people’s interests. Show them that your idea can promote their objectives. Frame your proposal in terms of their needs and concerns. Never underestimate the power of self-interest in shaping people’s cognition and behavior.

The aim is a role reversal: putting yourself in the other side’s shoes to understand the values, norms, prejudices, biases, social scripts, attitudes, and predispositions that regulate the other party’s communication patterns, cognitive processes, and behavior so as to identify the other side’s interests, constraints, and concerns.

About the Author

Yadvinder S. Rana is the author of the new book The 4Ps Framework: Advanced Negotiation and Influence Strategies for Global Effectiveness and a Professor of Cultural Management at the Catholic University in Milan, Italy, lecturer on intercultural negotiation and influence in leading international business schools, and founder of Neglob, a management consultancy firm that assists companies in international negotiations and global teams performance improvement. Learn more about Rana at