In Focus: Negotiating Roles

In Focus: Negotiating Roles

Have you ever found yourself feeling confused and vulnerable because you failed to understand the negotiating roles of the other party? 

When this happens, unskilled negotiators lack an awareness of how the other party is using the negotiation process to influence them. To help overcome this, you might like to consider increasing the effectiveness of your negotiation team by managing four distinct negotiation roles:

Subject Matter Negotiator. This negotiator is responsible for managing the issues, positions and outcomes. Being inflexible and positional on ‘what’ the negotiation is about, he/she is often referred to as the “Bad Cop”. Examples of issues include budgets, schedules, resourcing and trading terms.

Process Negotiator. This negotiator is responsible for the influencing process and ‘how’ the negotiation is being managed. As a result, he/she is often referred to as the ‘Good Cop’ because collaborative behaviours and flexibility are demonstrated in 'how' the negotiation is managed. The Process Negotiator does this in ways that help those involved to find new sources of value and face-saving options. Examples include reframing the issues as mutual and neutral, the issues sequencing, who is involved, and where and when the negotiations are held.

Subject Matter Expert. This role goes to the person who has the expertise to help with the problem analysis and definition that occurs during the negotiation’s discovery stage.

Negotiation Observer. This role is passive during the formal negotiations. The Observer has the situational awareness to identify common ground, opportunities for further discovery, and potential win/win concession exchanges. These insights are then shared with the team during breaks. The learnings can then be applied by the Process Negotiator to signal to the other party how their needs can be satisfied.

Self-coaching tips

  • Check if the members of the other party are credible by clarifying their role, the scope of their negotiating mandate and who gave the mandate.
  • Schedule frequent breaks to create reflection time and to widen perspective taking.
  • Rehearse potential negotiation situations as a team to ensure that responsibilities and roles interact seamlessly.


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